A NEWLY-approved £20 million fund to help boost the use of technology in Jersey has placed the digital sector ‘on the same footing’ as finance and tourism in terms of government support, according to the head of Digital Jersey.
Tony Moretta spoke after the ‘technology accelerator fund’ was backed by a majority vote in the States Assembly last week.
Proposed by the Council of Ministers, the fund uses the windfall the government received from the sale of JT’s ‘Internet of Things’ division and will be led by Digital Jersey – to help industry and technology experts develop ‘scalable and shareable plans’ that benefit the Island.
Mr Moretta pointed to his organisation’s Smart Fields scheme, which uses a combination of technologies – including drones – to help improve the yield and quality of Jersey Royals, as an example of the type of project the fund could support.
‘The better use we have of technology across the whole Island [will] help us solve problems, help us generate new ideas, new products and new services that we can sell around the world,’ he said, adding that the ideal projects would need to have ‘a good use of technology’ and ‘the right local impact’.
‘If you want to improve productivity, which is a big challenge for us as an economy, there really is no other way than using technology well – and if it can help with potatoes, it can help with anything.’
He stressed that the fund would be ‘nothing like’ the former Jersey Innovation Fund, which loaned £2.1 million of taxpayers’ money to businesses and was shut down in 2017 after one of the beneficiaries – computer software firm Logfiller – went into liquidation owing the government £400,000 plus large sums of interest.
‘The innovation fund was about funding companies to do what they wanted to do. This is about funding projects to do what we want to do as an Island and the problems that we want to solve,’ he added.
Financial accountability and oversight will be maintained by the technology accelerator programme oversight board, which will now be established under the control of Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham.
Mr Moretta said: ‘What the tech fund does is really signal that the government appreciates that Jersey as an economy, as an Island, has to invest in technology if it wants to get improved productivity, better outcomes in health and education and a more environmentally sustainable Island. Technology is a very big part of achieving all of those aims and the tech fund puts the investment behind it.’
He added: ‘Everyone talks about digital all the time, but for the first time government will now be funding digital as much as they fund finance and tourism. For me that means a lot, because it is putting technology on the same footing as its support for the finance industry and the tourism industry.’
Senator Farnham said: ‘There is enormous potential in investing in technology which improves the productivity of existing economic sectors, supports the development of new economic sectors, products and services, helps Islanders to develop the right skills for the future, and improves supply chain resilience.’