Thursday 21 November 2019 6:42 am

The internet can help left-behind constituencies step into the future

Daniel Dyball is UK executive director at Internet Association

It can sometimes be easy to forget that the internet plays a vital part of everyday life. It makes a substantial economic contribution to the UK, creating approximately 400,000 jobs, 80,000 businesses, and £45bn in gross value added to the UK’s GDP. 

Most importantly, the internet improves people’s lives with products and services that make a difference. From  answering a question in seconds or chatting to a loved one that lives on the other side of the country, the internet has created a boost to the UK economy and society not unlike the industrial revolution.

New research from the Internet Association shows that while the sector provides jobs and businesses in every UK constituency, in the key northern seats that will decide the upcoming General Election there is an internet inequality that must be addressed.

“Workington Man” has been much discussed by pundits in Westminster — a vital demographic for the parties to win over in order to achieve victory on 12 December. But the voters of Workington are being left behind when it comes to the internet revolution. 

Just 20 businesses in the constituency are in the internet sector — the lowest proportion in England. 

With large public and private employers in the defence sector as well as the National Nuclear Laboratory located on the doorstep of Workington, there is no reason for constituencies like it to be unable to fully enjoy all the benefits that the internet brings.

The research also sheds new light on the north-south divide. Just three of the top 40 English constituencies with the biggest economic contribution from the internet are located outside of London and the south east: Manchester Central, Welwyn Hatfield, and Leeds Central.

The sector wants to continue to deliver growth and drive prosperity across the UK. But proposals from some political parties to place additional taxation on internet companies would not help. 

In fact, targeting the tech and internet sectors misses the wider point: we need to have a serious debate about funding infrastructure investment in the UK. And when searching for solutions on digital tax reform, it is vital that we work together on a global response, particularly through support for the ongoing OECD process.

Political parties must also focus on some key areas. We should improve digital skills in schools by embedding computer science into the curriculum. And by promoting a wide-ranging approach to education on digital citizenship — working in partnership with industry — we can level up the whole nation’s internet skills and literacy.

We should also encourage faster adoption of digital technology across the economy to boost productivity, and consider how funds from the Apprenticeship Levy can be used to help small and medium-sized enterprises.

Investing in innovation is also vital. The government should increase the amount that firms can spend on research and development tax free in order to encourage digital investment.

And as the UK prepares to leave the EU, future free trade agreements between the UK and the rest of the world should also have strong digital provisions that enable cross-border data flows, encourage vibrant e-commerce markets, and facilitate digital exports. 

The internet economy is thriving in many parts of the UK. But it will only be by adopting positive policies that the next government will bring the “Workington Man” and other left-behind constituencies along in the internet revolution.

Main image credit: Getty

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