Digital Britain Minister Tweets Against Tory Tech Manifesto

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Stephen Timms has attacked the Conservative Party’s new proposal for the rollout of super-fast broadband via Twitter

Stephen Timms, the minister in charge of delivering the government’s Digital Britain manifesto, has derided the Tories’ vision of universal 100Mbps broadband by 2017 – unveiled yesterday in its Technology Manifesto – as “hopeless” and lacking funding.

Speaking at the manifesto launch yesterday, Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude said: “Our proposals will make the UK the most technology-friendly government in the world, introducing a right to government data, extending superfast broadband and creating a much more level playing field for SMEs.”

But the Labour minister deigned to respond via micro-blogging site Twitter, stating: “Conservative broadband policy hopeless. Minor regulatory tweaks, already in hand, not the answer. Funding needed, & soon.”

The Conservative Technology Manifesto made sure to include the latest buzzwords, including the plan to extend super-fast 100 Mbps broadband across most of the population, which it said was 50 times faster than Labour’s planned broadband network, and would make the UK a hub for the creative industries.

It introduced plans to legislate the introduction of a new ‘Right to Government Data,’ enabling the public to request – and receive – government datasets and following the example of President Obama’s ‘Right to Data’ policy in the US. This, the opposition party claimed, would make government more accountable and root out wasteful spending, as well as boost new business and application innovation in making use of this public data, which it estimated to be worth £6 billion.

The transparency theme extended to publishing online every item of central government and Quango spending over £25,000, alongside the details of senior civil servants’ and local council officials’ salaries. This would create a level playing field for open source IT in government procurement and open up government IT contracts to small-to-midsized enterprises (SMEs) by breaking up large IT projects into smaller components.

The manifesto also called for the creation of a small IT development team in government – a ‘government skunkworks’ – that can develop low-cost IT applications in-house and advise on the procurement of large projects, inferring the apparent lack of skills in current government to manage amorphous IT-contracted projects.

Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude said: “It is incredibly important that we get our economy moving again to get us out of Gordon Brown’s recession. For too long we have endured a closed shop government – which keeps information from the public, fails to stimulate innovative industries and wastes money on bloated, unnecessary and gold-plated IT projects.”

Shadow Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt added: “Our ambition is to ensure that the next generation of Googles, Microsofts and Facebooks are British companies. To achieve this we need to ensure we have a superfast broadband structure that gives the UK a competitive advantage over other countries. Our ambitious plans will make this happen.”

Among the response from the technology industry itself, Tristan Wilkinson, director for Public Sector in the UK for Intel EMEA and member of the Digital Inclusion taskforce, welcomed the debate between the political parties competing to demonstrate their tech credentials. “We need serious policies that enable innovation to flourish and thrive, we must focus on fast action in order to avoid being overtaken by other nations. Let’s not allow the dividing line being drawn between the parties become a digital one,” he stated.

Yesterday, eWEEK Europe also reported that the vast majority of local government IT officials would be concerned if central government imposed restrictions on IT procurement across all tiers of government.

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