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Covid-19: Technology Sector

Volume 675: debated on Monday 27 April 2020

What discussions he has had with representatives of the technology sector on its response to the covid-19 outbreak. (901879)

We are facing an immense challenge in how we live and work, and more than ever we are reaping the benefits of our world-class digital infrastructure and leading tech industry. I am grateful to all the companies that have made generous offers of support; I am consistently impressed by their generous and innovative response. Thanks to the tech sector, NHS workers have been given smart devices to connect with patients; people’s data caps have been lifted; and millions of video-calling apps have become the living essentials that we all rely on to do our jobs and to stay in close touch with loved ones.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. The development of British apps such as the covid symptom tracker could hold the key to ensuring that life returns to normal. What support is he giving the British tech sector to develop similar apps that could aid our economic recovery?

The Government are working closely with industry on the tech solutions that will enable us to beat covid-19, and I am sure that tech companies will play a key role in our economic recovery. We have already announced a new £1.25 billion package for innovative firms to ensure that our world-class tech sector remains resilient through this challenging period. That includes Government match funding for £500 million in convertible loans for businesses that require equity investment but are currently unable to access existing loan schemes. In addition, we have made available £750 million of loans and grants for exactly those small and medium-sized businesses to which my hon. Friend refers, which focus on research and development.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer: during this pandemic, access to digital devices and fast, reliable internet connection are more important than ever. We have gone online not only to shop, connect with friends and colleagues, order prescriptions and apply for support, but to access culture. The BBC’s “Culture in Quarantine” has brought joy to homes, and in a recent survey of 1,000 people in the north-east, 55.6% said that they were using tech to watch arts and culture that they had never considered prior to the pandemic. He knows that the creative industries fear for their future and that if they are to rebuild and flourish, the digital platform must grow, but, sadly, the cost of devices and poor connections mean that many cannot participate. What steps is he taking to ensure that cost does not discriminate against the digitally disadvantaged, and what plans does his Department have to widen access to the creative industries post-covid?

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions—she raises a number of points and I will try to address them. First, I very much welcome the BBC’s “Culture in Quarantine”. I have had discussions with Tony Hall, the director general of the BBC, and we are working together on that. Indeed, I have engaged with some of it myself. The National Theatre put on “One Man, Two Guvnors”, and I very much enjoyed watching that and seeing arts in a remote form. I very much pay tribute to all the arts organisations doing that kind of innovative work.

It is very important that everyone can access technology, particularly the vulnerable. So, for example, we have announced that we are supporting the DevicesDotNow campaign, led by FutureDotNow, which is seeking donations of equipment from industry to help connect vulnerable people to vital Government services. We are going further, and I am working closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education to connect disadvantaged families and young people who do not currently have devices.