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Election 2017: Lib Dems Plan Technological Future For UK, 2Gbps Broadband & No Hard Brexit

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Liberal Democrat manifesto promises to harness power of tech without negatively impacting society and to support digital sector

The Liberal Democrats have promised to harness the benefits of new technologies, support the digital and creative industries, roll out 2Gbps broadband for businesses and continue to oppose Brexit in their manifesto for the 2017 General Election.

Leader Tim Farron said the document wasn’t so much an attempt to form the next government but to become the next opposition, arguing that every vote for the party would strengthen the battle to stop the Conservatives and a hard Brexit.

Technology, both as an industry and how it can empower the country as a whole, is central to this vision. But there was also an acknowledgement that the technological future could be a threat to communities and jobs. The Lib Dems said it would seek to strike a balance.

Tim Farron Liberal Democrats Lib Dems By Keith Edkins - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The technological future

“New technologies are beginning to transform the economy. Machine learning, artificial intelligence and automation are affecting the type and the scale of employment,” read the manifesto. “New global markets are opening up for low-carbon and resource efficient goods, services and infrastructure. The scope and speed of these changes will be profound and rapid.

“Britain needs a sustainable and balanced economy not just to help fund public services but because growth and enterprise create jobs and opportunities for all. Liberal Democrats believe that there is much to be done to create an economy that ensures that the whole population benefits from the technological advances ahead.”

The Lib Dems would invest in infrastructure to the tune of £100 billion, look to double the number of small businesses involved in the digital economy and support ICT expenditure in non-tech sectors. It would support entrepreneurs with startup allowances and protect the £2 billion science budget.

Adults would be able to improve digital literacy and have access to on the job training, while the national curriculum would retain coding and include technical skills. Digital apprenticeships would also be created and the Lib Dems would ensure there would be no shortfall in projected EU funding for research. Immigration policy would reflect the need for highly skilled students and employees.

Broadband and surveillance

The manifesto also includes a pledge for ‘hyperfast’ broadband of 2Gbps for businesses and a universal service obligation (USO) of 30Mbps for the entire country. The Tories are pressing ahead with a 10Mbps USO, which could be raised by secondary legislation, and for 1Gbps broadband.

But despite the party’s optimism that new technologies can transform the country’s economy and encourage growth, it also said some people would feel under threat. It promised the creation of an impact budget that would address job losses, housing and public services.

“In the knowledge-based economy of the future, scientific research, innovation and skills will be crucial to prosperity. The advent of robotics and increasing artificial intelligence will also change the nature of work for many people. The government needs to act now to ensure this technological march can benefit everyone and that no areas are left in technology’s wake.”

Above all, the Lib Dems are campaigning for a second referendum that would allow the electorate to choose between any exit deal reached between the government and the EU. It wants people to be able to choose between the deal and continued membership of the EU.

There is also a commitment to end widespread state surveillance by only targeting those suspected of wrongdoing. It also opposes Conservative plans to undermine encryption. The document was published before the terrorist attack on Manchester on Monday evening.

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