8 March 2019


Speech: UK must lead the way in internet safety

Carolyn Fairbairn speaks at the Deloitte Media and Telecomms Conference 2019

Speech: UK must lead the way in internet safety


Good morning everyone, it’s great to join you here this morning. Now you don’t need me to tell you what perplexing times we live in. The Brexit roundabout that keeps turning. The same arguments made over and over again. The wasted conversations that should have been resolved months ago. So today, I am delighted to be part of exactly the conversation we should be having. You have a fantastic agenda, Jolyon. All about how this great success story of British tech, media and telco can be an even greater success in the future. It was British Nobel prize winner Dennis Gabor who got it right. He was a true TMT native, who worked on early TV tubes and helped invent the hologram. And he said ‘we cannot predict the future but we can invent it’.

And I do think we are in an age of invention now, not just for specific companies or sectors, but for the UK as whole. What kind of country do we want to be? What are we good at? How can we win globally to create prosperity, shared across the country?

And one thing is absolutely clear. The UK should be a world leader in this sector, now and in decades to come. Here we are in the greatest media and communications city on earth. We consume it – by the yard in sound and vision. We argue about it constantly. But above all, we lead it.

Just take our creative industries. They contribute over £100 billion to the economy every year. They employ one out of every eleven people in the UK. 1 in every 8 albums sold in the world is made by a British artist. And in tech, despite Brexit, despite everything – last year the venture capital invested in UK tech eclipsed Germany and France combined. And while the Black country led the way in the first industrial revolution, now it's leading the way in the fourth – with world class 5G research in Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry.

So let me say at the outset that I am an unalloyed optimist about the future of this great sector. When you see Britbox, virtual reality, e-commerce, sports broadcasting, gaming, new innovations every day – or when you see Olivia Colman wowing Hollywood – it means that when we look back a generation from now, we should be able to reflect on this as a golden age of British media, telecoms, and tech.

But I say ‘should’ – because there are some momentous choices looming that will shape the course of your sector’s future. They fall into three areas; trade, talent, and trust. Three T-words that make a change from the B-word and in reality are far more important. Together they make 2019 a defining year for this industry, perhaps the most important in a generation. Good choices, we will look back with pride. Bad choices, with regret. So now let me say a little on each – and what good needs to look like.


Trade and Brexit

So, starting with trade. Brexit is the top trade issue for TMT but by no means the only one. And on this the CBI’s message has remained unchanged and undimmed from the day after the referendum: the UK needs frictionless trade, access for our world beating services, and a smooth transition. No-deal must come off the table. We’ve been clear that hundreds of thousands of jobs are at stake.

And our urgent message is that politicians have a duty and a responsibility to come together. Either to agree the current deal in the next 10 days – or if they can’t, quickly agree something else. Failure would be unforgivable and the consequences devastating. From broadcasters being forced to move from the UK to the EU to continue supplying services to European viewers, to severe threats to our cross-border data streams, and the £240 billion they bring to our economy.

We will carry on bringing the evidence, the real stories from real companies. And if you can, please do join us. Every time an MP hears from a local business it helps to change minds. It’s not too late.

But winning the argument on no-deal won’t be enough. We then have the future relationship with the EU to work out. The fact is that so far, the debate has been dominated by our trade in goods. I do understand why. Services are complicated, and border issues, particularly in Northern Ireland, are graphic and urgent. Yet our trade in services is almost as big as our trade in goods. And certainly as important. The CBI will make sure that the voice of services is heard loud and clear when we get to the real trade deal with the EU. The same is true for other trade partnerships around the world. You can count on us to keep making the case.



The second T-word I want to talk about is ‘talent’. The people who inspire your creativity, power your businesses, create new start-ups, invent your future.

For a generation and more, the UK has been a magnet for the world’s creative and tech talent. They come here because we have an ecosystem that fuels ideas and creative spirit. They come because our country’s vibrant, experimental, risk-taking culture. And they come because they are welcomed among like-minded individuals.

But we shouldn’t it for granted. Right now, the government is part-way through a year-long consultation on our future immigration policy. They published a White Paper last December. The first time we’ve had a reset in 40 years. It’s an opportunity, but it’s also a responsibility. And frankly, it contains the potential for some serious damage. There’s the proposal that anyone coming here must be earning £30,000 or more. An idea that’s completely unsuited to your sector. In which many of your brightest and best are young, working in start-ups, gaining experience, achieving incredible things, investing in their careers, and moving on. Many whose pay-package is partly in equity. It’s a successful reward model that is completely ignored by the government’s proposals.

And 2019 needs to be a year of evidence. We need to make the case to government for why getting this right is so important. So, if you are affected or your business risks being harmed, let them know. Or make it even easier, let us know and we will take your stories forward.

But this is not just about talent from abroad. It’s about our homegrown young people. And here there’s a huge amount I could say. About STEM, about how our education system needs to change. One idea I mooted a fortnight ago is that that we could start by doing away with GCSEs – and give the curriculum space to a broader set of skills – including those of creativity, digital, problem solving. Exactly what your sector needs.

But today I want to focus on just one facet. On diversity. There is of course one other event this week to rival this great conference, and that is that is International Women’s Day tomorrow. There are three things I’d like to say on this.

First, it is fantastic to look around the room and see so many women here. It can only be good for ideas, for creativity, for dynamism. We know this – diverse companies are better companies – across gender and so many other differences that define us as people. Second, just look at how many great female leaders you have speaking here, from Sharon White to Carolyn McCall, Jane Turton to Katherine Viner. I counted 16 in total during the day. And for every woman leading a company, you inspire scores of other young women to believe – really believe – that they can follow in your footsteps, and to set out on that journey. So all power to your collective elbows. But third, we also know there is so much more to do. In the leadership of media and creative industries, men still outnumber women two-to-one. Nine in ten media companies pay men on average more than they pay women on average. There’s no quick fix. And we mustn’t forget the pay gap has many causes. To close it, the government needs to make progress on affordable childcare, technical education, and careers advice. But let’s not wait around for others to do it for us. There’s a huge amount we can do ourselves. Many CBI members already are. Vodafone’s Reconnect programme – the TV networks’ commitment to improve diversity on-screen. And at the CBI on Monday, we’ll hold the first meeting of the CBI Women in Technology Group. It’s a group I hope will amplify women’s voices in the development of government policy, and build a network of next generation women across the UK tech industry. If you would like to join us – please just let us know.



And finally, yes, we need to talk about trust. Open a newspaper any time in the last six months and you’ll have seen the headlines. Everyone knows this is an industry undergoing a radical, once-in-a-generation transformation. An industry both disrupting and being disrupted. It’s hugely exciting. For consumers. For society. And for everyone who works in this industry.

But amid the excitement and the promise of all that technology can bring, there’s also a groundswell of mistrust. Frankly, the honeymoon is over. There are the fears about snooping. The ease with which harm can be spread via social media. The worries about work – and the security of employment in an increasingly automated world. As one person put it to me, in vivid terms, it’s the Terminator problem. People’s fear of the unknown turning against them, the future intruding into today, harming their present. And I think when we look back, we’ll see this period as a toxic mix of fact, fiction and fear. And I know that’s painting a dramatic picture. But if we recognise the incredible, disruptive power of modern digital media and telecoms, we must also acknowledge that disruption can be felt in ways both good and bad. And the harms can be real.

Now, part of the answer will simply be the long hard work of separating fact from fiction, truth from misconception. That might be the work of a generation or more. But I know it has already begun. Look at the Internet Matters campaign – under which BT, Google, Facebook, the BBC and many more have invested millions of pounds to help make the internet safer. Or the Internet Watch Foundation – which works with over 130 companies to remove harmful online content. Or Facebook’s work on mental health. These initiatives are making a real difference. But if we ask: will industry action alone be enough to restore trust? I think the answer is: no. And that means we can anticipate a future of greater oversight and regulation. We can ignore that fact. We can resist. Or we can do something a little bolder. Anticipate it. Work with it. Shape it.

We have an opportunity to do that. Because in coming weeks the government will publish its Internet Safety Strategy. It can be a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Get it right and the UK can show the world how to get the balance right. Between freedom, and oversight. Checks and flexibility. And the CBI’s approach – informed by our members – will be clear. It must be a consultation in the truest sense. Not fuelled by a desire to take revenge on the shock of the new. Not pre-judged, by either side. And everything must be on the table – evidence from all quarters. Let’s accept that the pace of change has left regulation trailing, and needs to catch up. That’s a good thing. But badly designed regulation won’t just undermine this industry. It will simply become obsolete. So, instead, any regulation must be outcome-based, targeted, evidenced, proportionate, and effective in a fast-changing environment. The test for me will be whether it delivers something the rest of the world wants to copy. Another example where the UK can lead the world, and set the stage for a strong future.



And in conclusion – that of course is the point. This is all about building the best possible future. Right now, that future could hardly feel less certain. I suspect it may stay that way for a while. And there are serious threats. Let’s not underestimate them. But there are also momentous opportunities. To return to the quote I started with: ‘we can’t predict the future, but we can invent it’. Now is the time to invent the right future for this country.

And at the heart of it there should be the thriving, fun, exciting, constantly changing world of telco, media and tech. Powering cities and communities across the country,

changing lives and brightening the everyday. With the right choices – on the three Ts in particular of Trade, Trust and Talent – the UK can, and I believe will, lead the world in this most exciting of sectors.

I hope you have a wonderful rest of day inventing your own great future. And just know as you do so that I and all of us at the CBI are your most admiring fans and staunchest supporters. Thank you.


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