Written Evidence Submitted by techUK
techUK represents the companies and technologies that are defining today the world that we will live in tomorrow. The tech industry is creating jobs and growth across the UK. More than 850 companies are members of techUK. Collectively they employ more than 700,000 people, about half of all tech sector jobs in the UK. These companies range from leading FTSE 100 companies to new innovative start-ups. The majority of our members are small and medium sized businesses.
This response has been produced in haste for the Committee and therefore has not been through the usual quality checks, please accept our apologies for any mistakes and/or typos.
Our activity around coronavirus is split into three key areas:
- Respond: working with our members to support the Government and NHS in addressing the immediate critical issues presented by COVID-19.
- Adapt: helping our members and the wider tech sector manage the business impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
- Recover: thinking ahead about how the sector and the wider economy can recover once the health emergency has passed.
techUK’s immediate priority has been to coordinate industry support into the NHS. To do this we have worked closely with NHSX as well as supporting frontline NHS bodies (Trusts CCGs, individuals) who have expressed specific needs from the sector.
techUK has also been working with multiple Government departments as well as Local Authorities and others to ensure the sector can provide assistance in the most immediate and direct way possible.
techUK also notes the role the sector can play in the UK’s economic recovery and will continue to work with Government and other stakeholders to ensure that we can play the fullest role possible.
- The tech sector mobilised quickly to support the frontline fight against COVID-19. techUK members have seconded teams into NHSX and worked tirelessly to get physical equipment including laptops and screens and technology to the frontline. techUK has been directly involved in facilitating over 100 offers off help from our members into the NHS and we are standing up new collaborations between government and industry every day. techUK continues to facilitate work by acting as a point of coordination and convening.
- For example, eBay has created and launched a new NHS portal to help distribute PPE to care providers for free at the point of order from the NHS Supply Chain, with over 42,000 thousand pieces of PPE delivered in the pilot phase. Internet Service Providers have published a package of support for the NHS including additional mobile data, voice calls and texts for NHS frontline staff and broadband upgrades for care homes and clinicians working from home. Facebook and Samsung have also donated thousands of devices to the NHS, allowing staff and residents in hospitals and care homes to communicate safely or with loved ones they cannot see during the pandemic. Meanwhile Deliveroo is making 500,000 meals available free to NHS workers and people in need.
- Industry continues working with multiple Government departments to ensure digital resilience and continued connectivity through the crisis. We have worked hard with telecommunications companies and data centre operators to ensure they have been able to maintain operations through the lockdown and the UK’s digital infrastructure has proved to be remarkably resilient through a period of unprecedented demand for connectivity.
- Both fixed line broadband and mobile network operators promptly adapted without any major problems and we’ve seen very effective joint working. Ensuring these staff remain key workers with regular access to testing will be crucial in maintaining connectivity and resilience through this period.
- Given the fragmented nature of local government techUK has also been acting as a conduit for industry to share their offers of support by by pro-actively launching a central repository of tech offers.This initiative has been well supported by councils and techUK is the first port of call if councils are seeking supplier support.
- Since the outbreak of the virus data has quickly become a vital tool in the race to mitigate the spread of the virus and protect the public. Google, Facebook and Apple have each produced mobility data trends and Disease Prevention Maps to inform disease forecasting efforts and protective measures.
- Given the importance of data protection, privacy and ethics, techUK has been a point of contact between industry and the ICO and a source of information on data protection issues and announcements by organisations including the ICO and CDEI.
- Businesses and communities up and down the UK have had to adapt quickly to restrictions imposed by Government to help flatten the curve and save lives. Digital technologies have allowed businesses and communities adapt to these changes.
- Already there has been a significant uptick in cyber attacks with criminals using the disruption to target those working from home with phishing attacks and other nefarious content. techUK has been promoting advice and guidance from Government channels and from its members, focusing on supporting UK organisations and citizens to protect themselves during this period.
- techUK and our members have been working closely with the Department for Education to ensure that education can be delivered remotely, particularly to the most vulnerable. Our members have been involved in DfE’s work to ensure that devices and connectivity are provided to children in the most vital stages of their education, those who receive support from a social worker and care leavers. Meanwhile, a ground-breaking partnership has been activated with Google and Microsoft to ensure schools have access, and training, to their education platforms to help teachers deliver the best remote education possible.
- techUK’s members are also working with thousands of businesses across the United Kingdom to help make remote working and e-commerce as smooth as possible. techUK’s early March survey of its members revealed that the majority of our members were able to quickly move to remote working ahead of the lock down because they had the right digital tools, techUK wants to ensure that all businesses become digitally enabled in the future.
- Of course, technology businesses have also had to adapt to this new environment and techUK has been working with DCMS to ensure the UK’s bright economic spot is not dimmed as a result of the pandemic. This has included working with Government on the following schemes:
- CBILS: This has been a challenge for tech sector SMEs who have largely found themselves ineligible for smaller business loans. This is due to banks being unwilling to provide loans to the pre-profit and low asset, but idea rich companies that make up the sector. techUK members have expressed support for moving to 100% guarantees for CBILS loans to improve the lending rate.
- Employee Job retention scheme: This has been widely used by SMEs that techUK has spoken to. The use of the scheme has principally come from a desire to manage cashflow problems, but also from many employees asking to be furloughed due to care or childcare responsibilities. Restoring childcare and schooling for young children as soon as it is possible to safely do so has been highlighted as an important issue for tech sector SMEs to help boost productivity while working from home.
- The Future Fund: We are pleased that between the outline of the headline terms on 20 April and the final eligibility criteria the Treasury and the British Business Bank have sought to widen the scope of the scheme to include an increased variety of tech sector firms and investors. While the Future Fund is not fully compatible with the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) the Government has said that it will amend the rules to protect Future Fund investors from losing relief on previous investments through EIS made prior to any investment through the Future Fund.
- Innovate UK grants and loans: These have also been well received, including the doubling of the Fast Start Competition scheme, showing that even in times of hardship we can develop cutting edge innovation to solve the challenges facing the UK. However, concerns have been raised around Innovate UK’s ability to deliver the programme effectively and around who counts as an existing Innovate UK customers, for example what is the cut-off date in order to access this scheme.
- The announcement that the NHS’ Contact-Tracing App on the Isle of Wight was another step towards expected mass roll-out, however this trial has now been running for some time. At a recent Committee Hearing Matthew Gould, Chief Executive of NHSX, highlighted the app’s success would depend upon an “enormous comms effort” is needed to gain public confidence and participation in digital contact tracing. At techUK we could not agree more. Contact tracing is one of the highest profile elements of the technological response to the virus. While contact tracing apps are not a panacea to avoiding a resurgence of COVID-19 they can help in a broader strategy that includes widespread testing and manual tracing. Contact tracing apps must be built and implemented in a way that engenders public trust to be successful. We believe there are five steps to making that happen (see Appendix 1). These are:
- Be clear and open about the trade-offs
- Mitigate risks throughout the lifecycle of contact tracing apps
- Maintain engagement with technical experts
- Be clear about what happens when the app is no longer needed
- Gain and maintain public confidence and trust
- Whilst the frontline response to the health crisis remains our first priority tech firms are also now focused on the outlook for the rest of the year and how they can plan for the post-lockdown re-start and economic recovery that will need to follow. As one of the fastest growing parts of the economy the tech sector should be at the vanguard of the economic recovery. Particularly given that the wider economy will need to continue to digitise in order to deal with the likely ongoing requirement for social distancing measures.
- Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 the UK tech sector was performing well, growing at six times the rate of the wider economy. DCMS figures show that the digital sector added £149 billion to the overall UK economy in 2018, accounting for 7.7% of the UK economy.
- The UK tech sector is completing its transition from a start-up powerhouse to a country of later stage tech successes, with investment in larger scale-up tech companies continuing to break records and high growth in tech clusters across the country. It will play a key role in how we recover once the health emergency has passed.
- It is vital we start thinking early about this recovery. In particular, it is important that the recovery is inclusive. We should look to lock-in the momentum of greater digital use and ensure we redouble our efforts to get SMEs to adopt digital solutions and double down on efforts to end digital exclusion and ensure strong digital connectivity across the UK.
- It is important that the role data can play in the UK economy and societal recovery should also be considered. Initiatives that focus on unlocking the power of data could play a significant role in supporting organisations recovery and the creation of new innovative business models, products and solutions. It is suggested that initiatives such as the BEIS Smart Data Review and the UK’s National Data Strategy are re-energised. We believe there should be a strong regional focus in planning for the recovery. Digital capacity and capabilities in the regions should be strengthened so that communities, towns and cities across the country can benefit more equally from the digital economy. Over the next few months techUK will be implementing a programme of engagement across the UK to learn from local experience about how this can happen.
- We know that the adoption of digital technologies, tools and solutions can help businesses increase productivity and boost growth. Yet the reality is as we recover from this crisis there will likely be a reluctance or inability to invest in these technologies, just at a time when it is most needed to help boost the economy.
- Government should be starting now to think about what role they can play to incentivise the uptake of technology in the recovery phase, including upskilling furloughed and newly unemployed workers.
- techUK is starting work on this with our members and will share this widely once it is ready. But it is vital that we don’t lose the momentum as we move to recovery.
Appendix 1: Contact Tracing
The announcement that the NHS’ Contact-Tracing App will be released and tested on the Isle of Wight marks another step towards its expected mass roll-out. At a House of Commons Select Committee hearing Matthew Gould, Chief Executive of NHSX, told MPs the app’s success would depend upon its widescale take-up. He stressed that an “enormous comms effort” is needed to gain public confidence and participation in digital contact tracing.
At techUK we could not agree more. Contact tracing is one of the highest profile elements of the technological response to the virus. While contact tracing apps are not a panacea to avoiding a resurgence of COVID-19, the experience in countries such as South Korea demonstrate they can help in a broader strategy that includes widespread testing and manual tracing. Contact tracing apps must be built and implemented in a way that engenders public trust to be successful. We believe there are five steps to making that happen:
1. Be clear and open about the trade-offs
Contact tracing apps have significant privacy and security implications. Yet, not taking this action that could help to provide a safer exit from the lockdown risks perpetuating both the health and economic harms caused by the pandemic. Complex issues such as benefits and risks of centralised or decentralised systems, need to be clearly explained. Focusing on transparency and accountability of how and why decisions are taken, and being explicit about the trade-offs, is key to building public trust.
2. Mitigate risks throughout the lifecycle of contact tracing apps
There has been a well-informed public debate on general risks and benefits of contact tracing apps and the NHSX has sought to reassure about its efforts to ensure the app is developed responsibly and securely. An independent assurance board has been created within the NHSX app development team to advise on issues of safety, security and risk management process, which is best practice. The ICO has also set out its expectations of the app from a data protection perspective. At a Select Committee hearing, NHSX committed to publish the risk model for the app.
However, as Gould highlighted in the Committee hearing “the app will iterate” as it is deployed and used. The risks and benefits may then also change. Processes need to be put in place now to constantly identify, consider and address risks throughout the app’s lifecycle. Part of this process should be a transparent discussion on how to resolve possible tensions and trade-offs that may have to be balanced.
The public must be made aware that security, privacy, and safety risks are being constantly identified and managed in order for them to not only to download the app but also continue to download and accept updated versions.
3. Maintain engagement with technical experts
The creation by NHSX of an Ethics Advisory Board, chaired by the previous head of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery to provide advice and recommendations to the app oversight board is welcomed. Having leading experts such as Professor Luciano Floridi, Dame Glenys Stacy involved and the chair of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) Roger Taylor is very positive. This is a great example of collaboration between the NHSX and the CDEI. The engagement of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) in the development process is also reassuring from a security perspective.
However, scrutiny will need to be extended beyond just the development stage and look at how the app is used and operated. There should be a long-term commitment to external scrutiny and engagement with technical expertise. Organisations and individuals from across the disciplines involved need to have the collective confidence that the app both fulfils its purpose and addresses justified concerns, such as those raised in the recent Ada Lovelace report.
4. Be clear about what happens when the app is no longer needed
There should be clarity from the outset about how the app will be switched off once it is no longer needed. This includes the criteria to decide when the app will be switched off and, most importantly, how the information and data collected from the app will be deleted. It is also important that there is openness about what will happen to any data that is collected via the app and shared with the NHSX Data Store.
Ensuring there is an open and transparent dialogue about what happens when the app is no longer needed and a clear strategy of what will happen to data, information and insights gained is important to consider now and be just as clearly communicated as the steps being taken to trial, test and phase the apps introduction into society.
5. Gain and maintain public confidence and trust
As Gould made clear, the success of the contact tracing app will be dependent on getting an “optimal” level of people to download it. This requires an effective communications strategy supported by trusted third parties who, having scrutinised the technology and process of development and implementation, are comfortable endorsing the Government approach.
With mass rollout of contract tracing apps just weeks away, it is vital that government navigates the next steps carefully. Even the best designed contact tracing apps cannot make an impact in the fight against COVID-19 unless they are used widely across society. Now is the time to earn the trust and confidence of the public. Much depends on quality of the public dialogue over the days ahead.