All posts by RajaH

Hello, my name is Raja and I work in public policy, specifically relating to infrastructure policy in the UK. I have a Masters in International Relations from the University of St Andrews and a First Class BA Hons in Political Science from the University of Hull. My areas of interest include Human Rights, Globalisation, Democracy, British Politics, International Security and Cultural identity. Look forward to debating!

Why the Government should invest more in digital technology

Research highlights that Britain’s ability to cultivate a digital society is dependent on national and local government injecting further investment into digital technology.

Providing digital usage and custom preserves it’s concurrent trajectory in the UK, there will be 156 million ‘internet of things’[1] connections[2]. The UK’s digital economy represents 12.4% of it’s GDP, the largest of any G20 nation, and projected increases in broadband speeds could add £17 billion to it’s economy by 2024[3]. These figures may suggest healthy digital conditions for the UK, however these projected figures are dependent on economical investment relative to technological innovation. This simply is not happening.

The majority of the government’s investment in the digital space market has been in ‘next generation’ substructure, therefore neglecting development and innovation[4]. Meanwhile, international competitors are becoming increasingly ambitious, exemplified by their move to superfast and ultrafast broadband coverage[5]. Consequently, the UK have started to fall behind: ranked 9th out of the 18 countries for 4G outdoor population[6] and 17th out of the 19 countries for access to full fibre connection[7]. Nearly 25% of rural premises in the UK do not have a decent broadband service[8]. Most notably, South Korea has 96% availability for 4G mobile, compared to the UK’s 66%[9].

Many small and medium businesses in the UK have their digital connectivity needs unmet. In 2016, 20% did not have access to broadband speeds of 30 Mbps (‘superfast’) and around 8% were unable to access speeds of 10 megabits per second (Mbps)[10]. The Government made some changes to the Electronic Communications Code to improve the ease of rolling out digital infrastructure in 2016. However, many key infrastructure stakeholders consider that progress too slow and uphold further scope for reform[11].

The underfunding would be less problematic if digital technology was not so significant to the UK’s infrastructure being productive. The UK’s internet usage is the largest off all the G-20 countries[12]. Britain’s businesses, banks and governments use the internet for data storage, connectivity and operation and this has significant implications to UK electric supplies, national rail, roads, bridges and wind turbines[13]. Furthermore, the use of mobile apps and machine learning cannot be underestimated in Britain, their ability to collate real-time data on asset condition and maintenance needs allows for the smooth operation of infrastructure. Significantly, communication networks in the UK has contributed more to Britain’s economic growth and social inclusion than it has in any other European country[14].

Ultimately, modest governmental investment in digital innovation is no longer acceptable. In the past, the UK has had the foresight and ambition to connect everyone to electricity, water and transport networks. The benefits today are obvious. The same ambition is now needed for future digital infrastructure.

A coordinated approach is essential. At present, digital infrastructure decisions are fragmented and entwined with the wider policy interests of numerous Government departments and agencies[15]. Digital investment is often too easily deprioritised, however a digital champion within Government should hold relevant departments and agencies to account and ensure the provision of digital infrastructure programmes.

Likewise, local government needs to be more proactive. Digital communications bring significant benefits to local areas. Local authorities must do more to encourage the deployment of infrastructure. The National Infrastructure Commission suggest facilitating planning permission for the investment of UK needs without long delays, as the current planning process is time consuming and costly.

National and local government must foster world class digital connectivity that is seamless, ubiquitous, reliable and resilient. This will promote leading-edge applications at an early date and can promote innovation in infrastructure systems such as networks of sensors, smart appliances and the combination of vastly improved data and machine learning to promote better infrastructure operation, lower costs and increased efficiency.

[1] The Internet of things is the network of physical devices, vehicles, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity which enable these objects to collect and exchange data.

[2] Brown, Eric (13 September 2016). “Who Needs the Internet of Things?”. Linux.com

[3] ibid

[4] Ofcom (2015), Strategic Review of Digital Communications; Ofcom (2016), Making communications work for everyone, initial conclusions from the Strategic Review of Digital Communications

[5] Ibid

[6] Ofcom (2016), The International Communications Market Report; Connected Nations 2016

[7] Ofcom (2016), The International Communications Market Report

[8] National Infrastructure Commission report, Congestion, Capacity, Carbon: Priorities for national infrastructure, 2017, p.44

[9] OpenSignal (2017), The State of LTE (June 2017). Accessed at: https://opensignal.com/reports/2017/06/state-of-lte

[10] Ofcom (2016), Connected Nations 2016

[11] National Infrastructure Commission report, Congestion, Capacity, Carbon: Priorities for national infrastructure, 2017, p.53

[12] http://www.consultancy.uk/news/1988/bcguk-internet-economy-the-largest-of-the-g20

[13] National Infrastructure Commission report, Congestion, Capacity, Carbon: Priorities for national infrastructure, 2017, p.53

[14] Oxfam, 2013; Shy, O. (2010), A Short Survey of Network Economics, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Working Papers.

[15] Ofcom (2015), Strategic Review of Digital Communications

Breaking down Brexit

Anyone with some sort of political acumen has an opinion on the primary issue dominating British politics, Brexit. It has hard to employ the word in any sort of discourse or context without feelings of dismay ascending, either because of the lies or connotations that come by implication to the word, these obviously include identity, nationalism and immigration. Whether or not one is a Brexiter, the issue has become heavily polluted, however the thing that I find most infuriating and most dangerous is that the EU debate, held over a year ago, was devoid of any holistic examination about the implications and consequences of the United Kingdom’s potential exit from the European Union. Only now are we seeing the consequences of this, as Prime Minister May struggles to gain any sort of traction in her quest to depart the institution.

Firstly, it needs to be acknowledged that the EU are a bureaucratic and aristocratic panel of unelected and undemocratic, sovereign representatives, existing purely to satisfy and satiate cooperate interests. They are largely responsible for the centralisation of capital and wealth in Europe and the West and have contributed to the dearth of progress in developing counties. Yet, despite this very sufficient ineptitude, the argument most heavily proliferated against the EU has been related to immigration. This may be a question for another debater article, but are there deeper structural powers at play here? Because, surely, if the EU’s politics was the problem, then the aforementioned reason would be a more prudent and politically legitimate issue to raise.

Moving on however, by implication of the EU’s political sovereignty, the EU are integral to every part of British infrastructure. As Britain continues to establishes it self as a champion of the single market, propositioned by the EU, essential facets of British society engrosses itself into the EU’s remit. This includes the foundations of society’s structures; trains, buildings, planning regulations all go through procurement processes laid down by the EU and this is essential to Britain’s economy in both a financial and functionality capacity. The importance of this is evidence, yet it begs the question, why was this not mentioned in the debate?

Furthermore, the EU is heavily engrossed in Britain’s research assembly. This is again by implication of having a political system that is so heavily engrossed into the EU’s productivity The UK is one of the largest recipients of research funding from the EU. Over the period 2007 to 2013 the UK received €8.8 billion out of a total of the €107 billion expenditure available to research, development and innovation in EU Member States, associated and third countries. This represents the fourth largest share in the EU. In terms of funding awarded on a competitive basis in the period 2007 – 2013, the UK was the second largest recipient after Germany, securing €6.9 billion out of a total of €55.4 billion. Why again, was this not mentioned in the debate?

 

Then finally, economics. Through access to the single market, London has been able to attract institutional and corporate investment from Europe and beyond these shores. Why again, was this not mentioned in the debate? Conversely, on a different dynamic, with an estimated population of 8,615,246 residents, London is the most populous region, urban zone and metropolitan area in the United Kingdom. London generates approximately 22% of the UK’s GDP, with 41,000 private sector businesses based in London (at the start of 2013). The lack of economic, political and opportunistic devolution in the UK is indicative of the EU’s operational structure. The single market is the most lucrative version of itself in a centralised system where money, labour and politics transpires in the same space, because investors would rather invest in one super-economy with extravagant returns (London), than invest in a split of many healthy economies around where the returns may be more stable but less spectacular. This surely, like my first elucidation, is a far more prudent argument to make against the EU, than a largely fabricated narrative about immigration (which I will clarify in another debater article).

Conclusively, the thing that I am most trying to infer here is that the current format of political destitution and reporting, from both the politicians and the media, needs renovation. In the context of Brexit; the state of political analysis was repugnant. The aforementioned issues, that both highlights the advantages and disadvantages of being an EU member state, was largely ignored and a narrative manifested itself that seemed to purely oppose the establishment or at least a perception of an establishment. Is politics not supposed to be about creating a better society? Well you could have fooled me!