Thursday, 7 August 2014

Why MPs’ Tech Attitude Needs to Change by Lawrence Jones of UKFast

We’ve all heard about the growing skills gap in the technology sector and while small steps are being taken to protect the UK’s technological future by businesses affected by the gap themselves, we are still seeing outdated attitudes toward technology in the bowels of Westminster and I believe that’s hindering any progress we might make.

Our governments’ lack of real tech knowledge was highlighted by a recent software upgrade that left MPs confused and, unfortunately for the country’s reputation as a tech-leader, shamed in the press for the whole debacle. But there are actually politicians flagging up this issue, pointing out that some of their peers are still stuck in the digital dark ages. You’ve got Boris Johnson at the launch of a new tech space saying he’s forgotten how to download apps to his phone, along with regular instances of ministers using tech jargon incorrectly. Earlier in the year it was reported that, during a parliamentary debate, one minister described an IP address as “an intellectual property address”, which led fellow MP Julian Huppert to say that when it comes to technology, “The vast majority of MPs simply do not get it.”

Whilst I commend the handful of politicians who’ve got to grips with technology, the general lack of digital knowhow and the apathy across the board is of great concern. How can these people choose how to drive our country’s technology education forward when they don’t have a grasp of the basics? Whether it’s more training that’s needed or a shift to a ‘can do’ attitude, I don’t know, but it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. How damaging it is to our reputation as a digital nation, not only have our MPs lacking in knowledge, but also openly announcing it? I think they run the risk of making Westminster look completely out of touch whilst giving the impression that they’re completely clueless! I’m not sure how this affects the way other countries see us, but it can’t be the best advert for Britain, can it?

This absolutely isn’t to say that UK isn’t innovating new and exciting technology, as I think we do have an incredible amount of home-grown talent, and there have also been steps in the right direction when it comes to educating young people and creating the next generation of tech pioneers. The change in the IT curriculum at schools, for example, was a welcome move and I think the emergence of careers colleges is another one. UKFast is working alongside Oldham College to develop the UK’s first Digital Career College, which will help to equip young people with the skills that tech businesses actually need.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a discussion at the House of Commons with Lord Baker, who came up with the concept of career colleges, and it’s great to see initiatives like this. I also think the very fact that the government is asking for businesses’ contributions is a good sign and the career colleges are just one of many education projects that we are involved in. However, there’s a lot to be said for leading by example, and if the majority of MPs are struggling with technology, it’s a bit of a threat to their credibility. They’re undermining themselves.

Ultimately, I think it stands to reason that if we want to operate at the forefront of technology and compete at a global level, our government leaders need to make more of an effort to understand how the digital world works… or at least be able to download an app!

Lawrence Jones is the founder and CEO of Manchester-based internet hosting company UKFast. Providing colocation, cloud and managed hosting services to thousands of clients from its data centres, UKFast has earned recognition for its commitment to customer service. Lawrence, named Ernst & Young's Technology Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013, has taken the firm from a two person venture in 1999, to the 220 employee strong, £30m turnover business it is today. To find out more, visit and follow Lawrence on Twitter.