Yesterday I wrote about why the DCMS oversight committee is biased towards the South of England. This has a serious effect because it means the voices of Northern constituencies are not being heard. Every MP naturally comes with a certain bias that favours their own experience and their own constituency. This is why we need a balanced group overseeing the DCMS.
But the problems go considerably beyond this. Another huge problem is the background of the people doing the scrutinising. For many activities being reasonably well educated and having some nouse will stand you in good stead. But not so technology. Someone that doesn’t have a deep technical background and experience cannot think outside the box to assess the best way forward. The risk is they take a conservative (with a little c) approach; tend to listen to embedded players who lobby them and appear to be a safe pair of hands; can’t spot b******t when they see it; can’t suggest or imagine a different approach; don’t know if the suggested approach represents value for money or is possible to implement.
All parties advocate that the UK needs to be world leading in tech. So let’s look at the background of those overseeing this.
DCMS Committee Chair
University of Hull (2.2)
local news, BBC, Independent on Sunday
|Steve Brine||BA History|
|Julie Elliott||BA Government and Public Policy Newcastle Polytechnic||GMB union|
National Asthma Campaign
|Rupa Huq||BA Political and Social Sciences and Law|
Newham College, Cambridge (2.1)
PhD in cultural studies with a thesis on youth culture
University of East London
|Lecturer at Victoria University of Manchester and Kingston University|
|John Nicholson||MA English Literature & Politics|
BBC, ITV, various newspapers
|Giles Watling||No university qualifications||Actor|
|Kevin Brennan||BA PP&E, Oxford|
PGCE, University College of Wales
MA Education Management University of Glamorgan
|Clive Efford||No university qualifications||Taxi driver|
|Damian Green||PP&E, Oxford||Journalist|
BBC, Channel 4, The Times
Consultant in Public Affairs
|Simon Jupp||No university qualification||Commercial radio presenter|
Journalist BBC and ITV
|Jane Stevenson||Guildhall School of Music|
“post-graduate opera studies”
Of the 11 members of the DCMS committee not one has any qualifications, experience or background in technology. Five out of 11 (45%) have journalistic backgrounds and have worked for the BBC; 2 out of 11 (18%) have creative backgrounds (singer, actor); 3 have backgrounds that are not directly relevant (taxi driver, teacher, lecturer).
This demonstrates how out of the kilter the committee is – with a bias towards the ‘media’ and ‘culture’ sides of the portfolio with 63% of members coming from that side and none (0%) coming from the ‘digital’ side of the portfolio under which telecoms fits.
While intelligent lay people might very well be able to form an opinion on sports or culture, technology is very different. Without a strong technical background how can these members oversee 5G or broadband policy? They are currently seeking to review the impact of connected tech. My question is what qualifies them to be able to do this? What skills do they have to assess a sensible approach to this technology beyond the lay person or to sift through different opinions to decide which is the right approach for the UK?
None of these people would be sufficiently qualified to get a job in telecoms, IT, cybersecurity or any other technical industry – but they are qualified to oversee it apparently. This points to a big weakness in the UK’s approach to tech. There are too many former BBC employees to begin with. The UK needs and deserves a greater diversity of background and at least three members who have deep technical expertise.
And while we’re at it, you will note that only 27% of the committee is female.