Britain plans hiring spree to harness big data in pandemic recovery

FILE PHOTO: People pass social distancing markers at Waterloo station, the busiest train station in the UK, during the morning rush hour, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain, September 7, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is planning to train hundreds of data scientists as part of a new strategy to drive an economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic through smarter use of data and technology in policy-making.

The National Data Strategy project reflects calls from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top adviser Dominic Cummings for an overhaul of the way the government makes decisions, and an appeal earlier this year for “weirdos and misfits” to shake up official thinking.

The government promises to train up 500 data scientists by 2021, announced new fellowships to work inside the prime minister’s office, and proposed new ways of working with data, including sharing information with the private sector.

“The new strategy will put data at the heart of the country’s recovery from the pandemic so companies and organisations can use it to drive digital transformation, innovate and boost growth across the economy,” the government said in a statement.

Johnson’s government has been criticised by some for the way it has handled data during the coronavirus crisis, including difficulties in passing on details of infections to local authorities to allow them to stop outbreaks.

“Our response to coronavirus has shown just how much we can achieve when we can share high-quality data quickly, efficiently and ethically,” digital minister Oliver Dowden said. “I don’t intend to let that lesson go to waste.”

Reporting by William James; editing by Stephen Addison

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