UK Government responds to National Data Strategy consultation

On 18 May 2021, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published the Government’s Response to the consultation on the National Data Strategy.

The National Data Strategy was released in September 2020 and aims to reflect “the opportunities and challenges of our new hyper-digital world”. The Strategy covers both personal and non-personal data. Last year, when responding to the consultation, we agreed that data and data use should be seen as opportunities to be embraced, rather than threats against which to be guarded – as long as the right checks and balances are in place. In its response, the Government has also placed emphasis on “data as an asset”. 

Summary of the Response

The Government sets out its intention to deliver the Strategy in the following ways:

1. Monitoring - the delivery of the five missions which underpin the Strategy, namely:

a. Unlocking the value of data held across the economy

b. Securing a pro-growth and trusted data regime

c. Transforming the Government’s use of data to drive efficiency and improve public services

d. Ensuring the security and resilience of data infrastructure, and

e. Championing the international flow of data.

2. Governance
– developing a governance framework to “ensure clear lines of accountability for implementation”. The Response refers to a cross-Whitehall National Data Strategy Implementation Steering Group which will be accountable for delivery of the Strategy.

3. Evaluation – scoping and assessing how to evaluate the success of the interventions to support implementation, in addition to ensuring the delivery of the intended outcomes of the Strategy.

4. Engagement - creating a National Data Strategy Forum of key advocates and influencers.

5. Data strategy – bringing together experts from a cross-section of stakeholder groups to assist with and collaborate on delivering the ambitions of the Strategy.

We welcome and agree with the Government’s identified key areas for ongoing conversation, namely:

  • Continuing to reframe the narrative on data use in order to shift away from considering data as a “threat to be managed” to acknowledging the benefits of “responsible data use for social and economic good” – as long as the right checks and balances are in place.
  • Creating a trustworthy data regime and ensuring that data is used responsibly “in a way that works for everyone in our society”.
  • Ensuring the National Data Strategy helps to “build back better, fairer and greener” - including driving the UK’s transition to net zero.
  • Ensuring a diverse range of voices are taken into account regarding future policy development and considered throughout the Strategy’s implementation.

The UK Government has identified a number of priorities in its Strategy and subsequent Response. Whilst it is understandable that data is seen as having an important role in the UK’s economic wellbeing, the right balance must be struck with important issues of trust and human rights. Some of those priorities – including countering the environmental impact of increased data use – will, if implemented, have a positive impact. However, maintaining high standards of data protection must remain the imperative, especially given the increasing and changing forms of data use. It remains unclear how the balancing act between removing barriers and ensuring high standards of protection will be achieved. We, therefore, watch with interest as the narrative develops.

Next steps

The focus now shifts to implementation in conjunction with launching the National Data Strategy Forum. The Response refers to a phased approach to future publications in terms of the strategy’s missions which will include not only updates on what the Government is doing but also provides insights into the wider data landscape and ecosystem. The Government seeks updates from stakeholders such as reports, projects or case studies. 

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