Conservatives Vow To Make UK The ‘Technology Centre Of Europe’ With Election Win

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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Tories say technology will create jobs, aid regional development and overhaul public services, but suggest more surveillance powers will be granted

The Conservatives have vowed to make the UK the “technology centre of Europe” if it wins the General Election on May 7, claiming the industry would stimulate regional development and create jobs across the country.

The party’s manifesto says more tech firms are setting up in the UK than any other country on the continent and details plans for better education, more apprenticeships and loans for entrepreneurs.

The document also outlines modified broadband and mobile ambitions, pledges to improve public services through technology and the promise of greater surveillance powers to the UK’s intelligence agencies.

UK technology centre

David Cameron with iPad featured“With the Conservatives, Britain will be the best place in Europe to innovate, patent new ideas and set up and expand a business,” the manifesto reads. “We will invest new capital on a record scale – £6.9bn in the UK’s research infrastructure up to 2021 – which will mean new equipment, new laboratories and new research institutes.

“This long-term commitment includes £2.9bn for a Grand Challenges Fund, which will allow us to invest in major research facilities of national significance, such as the new Alan Turing Institute, and projects such as the Polar Research Ship and Square Kilometre Array.”

“We have delivered a network of catapult centres – R&D hubs in the technologies of the future – and we will create more to ensure that we have a bold and comprehensive offer in place for Britain’s researchers and innovators.”

The technology industry would contribute to the development of a “Northern powerhouse”, while high-tech firms would help create jobs in the East, particularly around Cambridge. The Southwest’s pedigree in cyber security would also aid regional development, says the party.

Mobile and broadband commitments

The Tories add that the arrival of superfast broadband to 95 percent of the country by 2017 and near universal coverage by the end of the decade will also unlock the economic potential of rural areas. Mobile not-spots are also set to be tackled, while the party has also committed to establish the UK as a leader in 5G.

The licence fee would also be frozen and continue to be ‘top-sliced’ to pay for broadband investments, while the rollout of free Wi-Fi and e-books in public libraries would also be supported.

“We will secure the delivery of superfast broadband in urban and rural areas to provide coverage to 95 percent of the UK by the end of 2017, and we will ensure no one is left behind by subsidising the cost of installing superfast capable satellite services in the very hardest to reach areas,” they said. “We will also release more spectrum from public sector use to allow greater private sector access. And we have set an ambition that ultrafast broadband should be available to nearly all UK premises as soon as practicable.

“We will hold the mobile operators to their new legally binding agreement to ensure that 90 per cent of the UK landmass will have voice and SMS coverage by 2017. We will continue to invest in mobile infrastructure to deliver coverage for voice calls and text messages for the final 0.3 – 0.4 per cent of UK premises that do not currently have it.”

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Government services

government parliament big ben public sector bus clouds © CristinaMuraca Shutterstock government parliament big ben public sector bus clouds © CristinaMuraca ShutterstockThe Conservatives have also pledged to improve public services. NHS patients would have access to their electronic health records, and have the right to opt-out’, while family doctor appointments and repeat prescriptions would “routinely” be available online.

More government services would be moved online and more data provided to taxpayers as part of an ambition to “continue to be the most transparent government in the world.” The manifesto also promises that no one will be left behind in this transition, with a pledge to get more people online.

“We have already created 20 high-quality digital services, which include apprenticeships applications and tax self-assessments,” said the party. “We will save you time, hassle and money by moving more services online, while actively tackling digital exclusion. We will ensure digital assistance is always available for those who are not online, while rolling out cross-government technology platforms to cut costs and improve productivity – such as GOV.UK.”

Surveillance powers

However more powers are set to be handed to those tackling cybercrime and terrorism, with the Conservatives claiming that new technology is making it more difficult to foil potential threats. They say that any increase in power will be tempered with the rejection of any “authoritarian measures” that would threaten freedoms.

Additionally, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) would continue to be required to block sites that carry large amounts of illegal content, including their proxies.

 “We will keep up to date the ability of the police and security services to access communications data – the ‘who, where, when and how’ of a communication, but not its content. Our new communications data legislation will strengthen our ability to disrupt terrorist plots, criminal networks and organised child grooming gangs, even as technology develops. We will maintain the ability of the authorities to intercept the content of suspects’ communications, while continuing to strengthen oversight of the use of these powers.”

Labour published its manifesto earlier this week, outlining commitments to broadband availability open data and mobile coverage.

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