FIRST MINISTER’S ADDRESS – CBI NATIONAL INNOVATION CONFERENCE
Can I begin by welcoming everyone to today’s conference. In particular I’d like to thank CBI Cymru for giving me this platform to speak this morning – the very first National Innovation Conference they have held. This invitation was certainly a timely one. As I approach the end of my tenure as First Minister it is instructive to look back at what an extraordinary period the last ten years have been in the field of innovation and digital change, in particular. A decade ago, flipphones and MySpace were at the cutting edge of technology and social media. The speed at which our lives – at work and at play – have been re-shaped by changes in technology and, importantly, by the power of those new ideas, has been astonishing. From banking, to broadcasting; from our public services to the use of our private data, our daily life has been transformed. Changes that have brought with them a whole host of new opportunities, regulatory challenges and policy questions. And so in thinking about what I wanted to say today, I knew that there would be a dazzling array of far more qualified and interesting speakers who can outline the scale of those changes – and what they mean for our future. From chatting to organisers this morning I can see that I was right and that you’ve already been treated to some fascinating reflections about the future of AI. And so I thought I would be most useful in this session by helping us step back, and posing some important questions about leadership. I’m always conscious of that famous Ronald Reagan quote,
“The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
Now that might find a slightly warmer reception here than it does in the average Labour Party meeting, but I’m aware that Government has a very particular role when it comes to technology and innovation. We will never be the inventors. But, working with you, with other leaders in business, and in our universities we can – and should be the enablers. To help make real some of the opportunities that you are talking about this morning. In effectively overcoming the policy questions that new technology poses.
And, crucially, to examine how that leadership in the public and the private sectors can put that innovation and new technology to work in building a brighter future in Wales:
A stronger, more productive economy.
Better, more efficient public services.
And stronger, fairer and more resilient communities.
As any parent will testify, the dizzying speed of innovation and new technology can be – at the same time – both uplifting and daunting.
Uplifting in the new opportunities it affords young people to learn, to discover and to grow.
Just walk into any classroom across Wales today and you can see for yourself the ways in which the rich digital resources made available through Hwb is transforming the way our young people interact with knowledge and study.
You can also see the equally inspiring way it’s changing the way teachers think.
On a daily basis in Welsh schools, teachers are re-thinking and re-designing the way they transmit knowledge and get pupils to understand the world.
But, then there’s the flip side.
There are the natural questions you ask yourself as a parent and as a guardian – how can I protect my child and keep them safe in a world changing so fast.
And that’s before you get to the challenge of ‘Dad, can you buy me a new iPad?’
Like most politicians, I am always struck by the impact of any new idea, or examples of and innovation in our economy and our public services.
But, what we are talking about today isn’t as simple as a step-change in delivery.
This is not a transitional phase where we all just need to adapt to the new technologies, and once we achieve that adaption we’ll be in a different, but stable world.
No – we are now in a world of accelerating change. That is an idea understood by business, but not all policy makers.
We are in a world where communications between devices is just a question of how far apart those devices are. If they are within your car you use Bluetooth
If they are within your home of office you use Wi-Fi,
If they are across the world you use the internet or in the street you use 4G today – and 5G very soon.
These are the new standards – the digital equivalent of the Standard Gauge railway.
We see examples right across Wales of how this changes everything for the business community.
Zip Clip in North Wales now make use of our enhanced superfast broadband network to provide live streaming between their head office and engineers onsite, cutting out the ned for specialists to travel to each construction site, increasing their overall efficiency.
When I go to Swansea University and visit the SPECIFIC centre I’m always blown away by the potential of the IP being developed there.
The Innovation and Knowledge Centre they have on site is at the very cutting edge of work to transform buildings into power stations, enabling them to generate, store and release their own solar energy.
Two things in particular strike me about that particular example.
First, it shows the kind of public and private partnership that propels our economy forward.
Led by Swansea University and involving Akzo Nobel, NSG Pilkington and Tata Steel it’s a model of academic and industrial partnership that supports productivity in the regional and national economy.
But second, it’s been supported into place by Welsh Government support.
The value of that £6.5m of Welsh Government investment was demonstrated earlier this month with the announcement that the University had secured £36m of further funding from the UK Research and Innovation agency to develop a new, national Active Building Centre and support the building materials of the future. And it’s not the only place where that happens. In agriculture, Wales was the first nation in the UK to ensure 100% of its rural support payments are made online. In healthcare, Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board has been funded through the Small Business Research Initiative to collaborate with SMEs to develop new mobile applications. This will improve the categorization of patients clinical data, and free up nurses to spend 10% more time with patients.
Our investment in Public Sector Broadband Aggregation is providing network services to over 100 public service organisations in Wales, including 650 GP surgeries and nearly 1,600 schools.
By bringing these networks together this Government project adds security and resilience.
And just in the last week, the Welsh Government and the Welsh Local Government Association agreed a new concordat on cyber security, for all the Local Authorities in Wales.
With grant funding from the Welsh Government the agreement establishes a clear expectation for a common standard for cyber security measures across Wales, helping to protect vital local services from cyber threats, and increasing the awareness of cyber resilience across the public sector.It’s an approach I hope we can extend to other organisations in time.We know that in the accelerating world of changing technology, business rightly expects Government to establish these standards.The rapid pace of change, and innovation will bring its own challenges. And they have been well documented already.Artificial Intelligence, automation, new production innovations – they are all radically re-designing our working lives and the factory floor. For a manufacturing economy like Wales, the challenges of new technology are huge. Businesses are taking advantage of that innovation to make themselves more productive – and that’s fantastic. But in many cases they are doing it with less people than they did before. And so I go back to what I said just a minute a go – what is our leadership role, working together, in preparing for, and enabling, that future.I’ve been very clear in my time as First Minister that I don’t see our role as a defensive one.I don’t see any productive gain for a government to somehow hold back the tide of new ideas and new technology.To insulate industries from the challenges of new innovation.
Our ambition always has been – and always should be – to enable the best of that future here in Wales.And importantly, to help businesses and our public services to re-tool and re-design themselves and their operations for the road ahead.Earlier this month, I was in Berlin to open one of our two new Welsh Government offices in Germany.In a meeting there with the Federation of German Industries, they were talking about surprising findings in their own analysis of manufacturing employment & AI. They were saying it was actually requiring companies to take on more people to produce the complex add-ons and services that new, exciting products required.
It goes without saying that these will be high-skilled, well-paid jobs.
So – yes, change is hard – and changing cultures is even harder – but the potential gains are huge.
Underpinning digital transformation and innovation is data, acting as a new critical part of our national infrastructure that must be harnessed.
In Wales we are developing the capability to be able to respond and ensure data is used effectively and ethically in supporting innovation, economic growth and the better delivery of public services.
Over the past decade we’ve seen the development of data science institutes in Swansea and Cardiff University.
Alongside the new Data Science Campus in the ONS in Newport, Welsh Government worked in partnership with the ONS to develop their first data apprenticeships in the UK.
And with so many big data-rich organisations within Wales the opportunity for partnership working to utilise data has never been stronger
In some areas we have more to do – like Health.
The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care set out last year a clear statement of intent for the better use of health and care data for safe, effective care, because the use of Digital Systems in Health and Social care is no longer limited to increasing efficiency and making back-office services better. Today Digital Technology can be harnessed to provide safer care as well.
We are establishing a new information governance framework to support the more effective sharing of data.
We are developing a National Data Resource (NDR) to support better decision making at all levels, to facilitate better analytics and to prepare the way for emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, precision medicine and genomics.
And we are committed to developing and publishing new technical standards to enable integration and interoperability across all health and care systems.
We will continue to progress the Digital Health Ecosystem Wales, providing an ‘open digital platform’ to support innovation and we have also announced a Memorandum
of Understanding between Intel and the NHS to support projects using Artificial Intelligence.
One of these is being led by our National Imaging Academy and one in Velindre Cancer Centre, both using Intel support to develop algorithms to support clinical diagnostics.
But as I have said, we need to do more and I have therefore asked the Chief Executive of the NHS to meet with a delegation from the CBI to discuss the next phase of progress.
This is an area where we can work together, learn together, and produce better outcomes – together.
This is the approach I have always pursued as First Minister. I’ve always said we don’t have a monopoly on good ideas, and working together must continue to shape our approach in the future.
Our new Economic Action Plan, which we published in December, marks a step-change in the way we support growth in our economy.
The plan identifies the pace and the scale of the changes facing Wales in the fourth industrial age, committing us to harness its potential and manage its threats through a new, whole-government approach to economic development.
Our new Economic Contract makes it clear that firms wanting Welsh Government support will now have to outline how they intend to make their businesses more productive.
Our new Calls to Action identify challenges, such as productivity and decarbonisation, as areas where we want firms to actively work with us to address the structural weaknesses holding back our economy.
Just this week I heard about a fantastic Welsh-based company, TCG, that produce the ‘Sterimelt’ Machine.
The innovation helps sterilise and recycle clinical ‘Blue Wrap’ from our hospitals and turn it into reprocessed blocks that can, in turn, be developed into new products.
As a result of this public-private partnership the technology is helping reduce the cost of incinerating clinical waste for the hospital; helps generate new materials with a commercial value; reduces the carbon footprint of the NHS and supports wider economic development in the local area.
That’s the kind of innovation we want to support.
Of course, our new Economic Action Plan is just the start.
It’s simply the framework under which we want to work.
In fleshing out the plan we have said we want Wales to be the best place in Europe to capitalise on the next phase of digital innovation.
And we have asked for your help.
The Welsh Government has asked Professor Phil Brown, Distinguished Research Professor at Cardiff University School of Social Sciences, to lead a review into Digital Innovation, including Artificial Intelligence and Automation.
The review is taking an international perspective of digital innovation, and examining what Wales can learn from other countries.
It’s exploring how, working together, we can respond positively to areas of challenge.
And it will work closely with the Digital and Data Group being led by Julie James and examining the opportunities of big data as well as the digital opportunities in public service delivery.
The Expert Panel is helping Professor Brown compile an interim report with a view to a set of recommendations being put forward to Welsh Government to next year.
There’s a final point I want to make before closing.
Our Economic Action Plan, and the Review being carried out by Professor Brown, are not simply looking at new technology and new ideas for its own sakes.
The work is shaped with something else in mind.
The question of how can we work together to build a fair work nation and economy, fit for the future.
It would be a hollow victory if we built a more tech savvy economy if, in doing so, we increase the instability and insecurity of work.
It will only be a partial success if we construct a more dynamic, more innovative and more powerful economy through new technology if eighty or ninety percent of the rewards of that growth flow back only to the top five percent of people in our economy.
And it will be a missed opportunity if, the new ideas and technology we have talked about in today’s conference, aren’t mobilised to support new and more efficient public services that can make all our lives and communities stronger.
In a world where increasingly fractured communities and ever more siloed conversations are propelling the forces of populism and inward-looking nationalism, it is incumbent upon all of us to think through how new technology and new innovations can be a bridge, not a barrier.
How can we sweat the hundreds of millions of pounds we have invested in our new broadband network to improve remote clinics and patient appointment in our NHS?
How can we work with business, and with higher and further education, to build the skills base to support the industries of the future?
How can we get the best from big data to work in our transport system to re-shape and integrate the bus network?
We already see in Government these emerging themes of Integration and Standards – this is the new Infrastructure that the Digital world will be build on.
There are a host of possibilities out there.
It’s something, for example, we will be asking the Fair Work Commission to consider over the coming months.
And a huge prize for Wales if we get it right.
And I recognise that’s a challenge for all of us.
For government – to recognise it isn’t our job to have all the answers.
And for business – to recognise that there is a bigger prize at stake here.
By working together we can build a new environment for innovation in Wales. And as well as being commercially rewarding, this can enable those new ideas to contribute to a fairer, more just society.
And so I have a challenge to pose for the rest of the day.
In moving forward, what is the leadership role that we, jointly, have to play in building the future we want for Wales.
How can we, working together, make Wales – not just a European leader in innovation and tech, but also a fairer, better country along the way?
That’s my message today – public policy shouldn’t just be there to fix problems – it should actively develop and co-construct new markets, new services and a new Infrastructure – sometime tangible and visible, sometimes digital, through bold visions of the future.
And in helping us do that I will be very interested in what you have to say at today’s conference.