Exclusive: Chi Onwurah, Shadow Minister for Culture & the Digital Economy, tells CBR about the failings of the current gov’t, digital inclusion and the cyber security budget ‘scam’.
One of the many criticisms thrown at the political class is that they become ministers and spokespeople on subjects that they have no experience in, or knowledge of. This cannot be levelled at Chi Onwurah, Jeremy Corbyn’s recently appointed Shadow Minister for Culture & the Digital Economy, and a chartered electrical engineer.
"I went into engineering and I went into technology is because I understood the power of digital from an early age," she tells CBR.
Onwurah says that a Labour government would focus on "investment in our digital infrastructure," something she blasts both David Cameron led governments’ record on.
"The coalition government abandoned Labour’s universal broadband commitment for 2012, and then they missed their own targets on having it in place by 2015, and we still have significant areas of the country where you can’t get a even decent broadband signal, never mind a superfast one." Onwurah says a Labour government would drive towards fibre to the home.
"The government has used the £2-£3bn of public sector subsidy, giving it all to BT to roll out largely where they would have rolled out anyway," she says.
Although she praises some cyber security measures by the government, such as GCHQ apprenticeships and Cyber Streetwise, however, she describes the recent doubling of the cyber security budget by George Osborne as "a bit of scam actually".
"90% of their cyber security budget went on national security and critical infrastructure, only 10% went on consumer, small business, and the police.
"It’s great that it’s doubled, and the fact that George Osborne has become aware of the potential cyber attacks to impact our national security is great, but it’s not going to actually do much for consumers and small businesses."
Overall she would like an integrated industrial strategy for the digital sector. "(Business Secretary) Sajid Javid has a very hard time saying the word strategy, never mind putting industrial and integrated in front of it," she says.
She’s equally critical of her opposite number, Ed Vaizey: "Unforunately Ed doesn’t take a huge amount of interest in the digital economy because if he was to do that then we would have a integrated industrial strategy for digital, whereas we have ad hoc measures".
"That’s where he’s letting down the country."
A key focus for Onwurah is digital inclusion. She says she is on a "personal mission" to get more women into STEM subjects saying "we won’t have a competitive digital economy if we exclude 50% of the population."
She wants everyone to have basic digital skills, pointing out that today there is still "about 20% of the population who don’t have any digital skills whatsoever , and a further proportion who aren’t comfortable on digital."
The Newcastle MP says firms tell her that at the moment they find it hard to go into skills and inspire the next generation, because of a lack time in curriculum. She blames the government for issues at the other end of the age scale.
"What this government misses out totally," Onwurah says, "is improved adult education, which has been hugely slashed." She feels similarly about reduced library capacity too – for some still the best way to access technology and improve their skills.
This then, might just be what was mean by socialism with an iPad.
In an exclusive interview with CBR, Ed Vaizey, MP, the UK’s Digital Economy Minister, tells Ambrose McNevin that changes are needed if there is ever to be a home grown global tech giant. To read the exclusive interview in the November issue of CBR magazine, click here.