Labour says the UK’s strengths in digital technology can help economic growth and revamp public services
Labour says it will build on the UK’s strengths as a “leader” in digital technology to boost the economy and transform public services if it wins the General Election on May 7.
The party has published its manifesto, which also outlines a commitment to provide “affordable” high speed broadband to all parts of the UK, ensure teachers update their knowledge to keep up with developments in the ICT curriculum and to implement an “open data by default” policy.
UK leader in technology
“We have been quick to seize the opportunities of the internet,” reads the manifesto. “We have big strengths to build upon: world-leading universities, an outstanding science research base, an open economy with one of the highest rates of foreign direct investment in the world, and many successful global companies.
“Scientific discovery and technological innovation will drive economic advancement this century. We will introduce a new long-term funding policy framework for science and innovation, providing the stability and continuity that our companies and research institutes need to succeed.
“Labour’s longer-term approach will drive innovation and build on our strengths as a leader in digital technology. We are just at the start of the internet revolution. Digital technology has transformed start-up costs making it easier to run your own business. There is a widening in the application of new transformative technologies in the fields of robotics, genetics, 3D printing and Big Data. Our economy is developing a network of connections that will revolutionise innovation.”
Labour gave no specific details as to how it would ensure superfast broadband would be available to all of the UK within the next parliament other than it would work to maximise private investment. Similarly, it said it would reduce not spots in areas of market failure, suggesting regulatory intervention or government funding are options.
The current coalition government has pledged £790 million to extend coverage to 95 percent of the UK, with the requirement that any central funding received must be matched by local authorities. Trials of alternative technologies that could connect the ‘final five percent’ are also underway.
On the mobile side, the government has launched the £150 million Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) to help eliminate notspots and recently secured a £5 billion commitment from all four major operators to improve their respective networks.
Labour was more specific about its pledge to support community-based campaigns to teach digital skills, and promised to use technology to reform public services and government.
“People will be able to feedback on services quickly and simply, making sure their voices are heard, stimulating improvement and saving on the costs of service failure,” said the manifesto.
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Open data by default
Labour added it would back the principle of ‘open data by default’ to ensure greater transparency, and supported Freedom of Information laws. It said such legislation is a “crucial check on power of the Executive” and pledged to extend them to cover public services run by large private companies.
The document also touched on privacy and the surveillance powers afforded to the UK’s intelligence agencies, promising to protect the freedoms of individuals and keep up with technological developments.
“We will need to update our investigative laws to keep up with changing technology, strengthening both the powers available, and the safeguards that protect people’s privacy,” said Labour. “We will strengthen the oversight of our intelligence agencies to make sure the public can continue to have confidence in the vital work that they do to keep us safe.”
Education and jobs
The number of young people entering careers in IT could be boosted by a pledge to raise the standard of vocational education and the promise of apprenticeships from “Every firm getting a major government contract, and every large employer hiring skilled workers from outside the EU.”
Teachers would also be required to keep update their knowledge and skills “as a condition of remaining in the profession,” a requirement which presumably covers technological advances such as the inclusion of coding in the national curriculum.
The unemployed would be tested on their IT skills to see if additional training could help them get a job, while Labour also said although it backed “the principle” behind the troubled universal credit scheme, it would pause and review the programme to ensure it is fit for purpose.
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