With the UK’s General Election due to take place on 12 December, many issues have been covered in the media. One key area of interest for businesses is technology and for those of you who may not have time to plough through the manifestos of the main parties, here’s a quick look at some of the technology-related pledges and ideas featured in those manifestos.
With the Conservative government being in power since May 2010 (firstly in coalition with the Lib Dems) the tech vision, policies and direction of travel is, of course, a little clearer to all. The EU referendum under David Cameron heralded the need for UK data protection laws to be aligned with a the EU’s GDPR and an uncertainty and concerns that UK employers would be less likely to seek migrant tech employees, and that fewer overseas tech workers seek on to stay in their jobs in the UK, in an environment where the challenge posed by a tech skills gap was already evident. Having said that, back in 2017, the Conservative government under Teresa May announced a boost to the UK’s digital and technology industries in the form of £700m of funding as part of the launch of its Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. Also, under the Conservatives, a National Cyber Security Centre was set up in London in February (to act as part of GCHQ in Cheltenham), which was intended to enable businesses to report serious data breaches to the NCSC in confidence.
Looking forward to this 2019 election then, the Conservative manifesto features some of the following technology ideas and pledges:
- The setting up of a new, dedicated national cybercrime force and National Crime Laboratory, both of which are intended to help the police to safely get the benefits from the use of new technologies like biometrics and artificial intelligence, and to use DNA, all within a strict legal framework.
- Providing gigabit broadband access for “every home and business” by 2025 to help businesses and remote workers, to be paid for under the ‘National Infrastructure Strategy’.
- Investing £1bn in “completing a fast-charging network” for electric vehicles to make sure that “everyone is within 30 miles of a rapid electric vehicle charging station”.
- With reference to R&D tax credits, increasing the tax credit rate to 13 per cent and reviewing the definition of R&D so that investments in innovation and productivity-boosting cloud computing and data are incentivised.
- Creating a new £3 billion (over the next Parliament) National Skills Fund to provide matching funding for individuals and SMEs for high-quality education and training.
- Creating 20 Institutes of Technology, to connect teaching in science, technology, engineering and maths to business and industry.
- Investing in “world-class computing and health data systems” to help with research.
In the Labour Party’s 2019 manifesto, party leader and leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn says that he’s planning to “launch the largest-scale investment programme in modern times to fund the jobs and industries of the future so that no one is held back and no community left behind.”
Some of the key technology-related pledges and ideas that feature in the Labour Party’s manifesto for the coming 2019 General Election include:
- A proposal which has attracted a lot of media attention (and criticism from the Conservatives) to re-nationalise part of BT and deliver free full-fibre broadband to all.
- This will involve the creation of two new government entities: British Digital Infrastructure and British Broadband Service (BBS) to help roll out of full-fibre networks and coordinate the delivery of free broadband. Labour says this can all be paid for through the party’s planned Green Transformation Fund and a new tax regime for multinational companies, and there will be a jobs guarantee for all workers in existing broadband infrastructure and retail broadband work.
- The appointing of a cabinet-level minister dedicated to cybersecurity to help ensure that the nation’s cybersecurity issues are tackled effectively and to offer regular reviews of cyber-readiness.
- Giving officials working for National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which is the public-facing division of GCHQ, the power to audit public and private sector organisations’ cyber defences and issue warnings to organisations in order to reduce their cyber risk.
- Ensuring that no services are offered on a “digital-only” basis in order to try and remove the so-called ‘digital barrier’ that may exclude vulnerable people, and also to offer telephone, face-to-face and outreach support.
- Bringing in a legal right to collective consultation on the implementation of new technology in workplaces in order to ensure more rights and protections for workers whose jobs may be at risk of being lost or reduced as a result of technological advancement.
THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS
The big news is that beyond the 12-key policies focused on by the media, the Jo Swinson-led Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) have their eyes set upon a “vision for an innovation-led economy”. With stopping Brexit as their main focus, the party makes the point that retaining the Freedom of movement that EU membership has given could mean that British tech industries can “have access to the best and brightest talent from the EU” and thereby giving “businesses opportunities to grow and contribute to life and prosperity in the UK.”
Some of the other key technology areas that the Lib Dem’s say in their manifesto that their innovation-led vision will cover include:
- Positioning the UK to become a world leader in new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI).
- A belief that the EU should make solid new legislation about blockchain, AI and other new technologies.
- Giving high priority to matters relating to cybersecurity, data protection and privacy matters.
- Seeking to encourage competition from companies in the “digital space” and supporting the use of European and UK competition powers to stop “tech giants” from exploiting consumers and ensuring innovation through competition.
- Increasing the national spend on R&D to 3% of GDP (2.4% by no later than 2027), doubling innovation spend and creating “catapult” innovation and technology centres.
- Allowing companies to claim R&D tax credits against the cost of purchasing datasets and cloud computing, as well as simplifying regulations speeding up regulatory change.
- Creating a “startup allowance” to support fast-growing businesses e.g. tech startups.
THE GREEN PARTY
Even though the Green Party’s leader (and Brighton MP) Caroline Lucas was the party’s only MP elected in the last general election, they now have 7 MEPs in the European Parliament. Obviously, Green Party pledges and ideas relate strongly to environmental issues, and some of the technology-related pledges and ideas in their 2019 General Election manifesto (which pledges zero carbon by 2020) include:
- Delivering financial mechanisms and the transfer of new technologies to help the Global South adapt to climate change in a just way.
- As part of the “Green New Deal”, including finance and technology to “help the majority world adapt to climate change”, support human well-being, and to break “the carbon chains of fossil fuel dependence”, thereby bringing about a “green economic and social revolution”.
- Setting new clean technology standards and investing in research.
- Applying a Carbon Tax to help incentivise industry to switch to low and zero-carbon technology and equipment.
- Making finance and technology available to support developing nations.
- Introducing a Digital Bill of Rights (a new law) in order make the UK a leading voice on standards for the rule of law and democracy in digital spaces and to ensure independent regulation of social media providers. This law will also be designed to safeguard elections from foreign interference.
General Election – 12 December
Obviously, there are other political parties that make up and influence the UK political landscape, and which have technology-related pledges, but hopefully, this shorthand summary of some of the key tech pledges from the main players has provided some insight into where they say they stand on technology matters.
Clearly, elections are decided on a wide range of different issues and subjects and even though Brexit has been a dominant issue for some time now, it remains to be seen how the political and economic landscape will be changed after 12 December. Technology, however, will continue to advance, and exciting new areas such as AI promise to create new opportunities for businesses going forward.