General Election 2015: Party-By-Party Guide To Technology Policy

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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What technology polices would each party introduce and how would the tech industry be affected after the next election?

On May 7, the United Kingdom’s electorate will decide on the political future of the country at one of the most unpredictable General Elections in recent memory.

Housing, education and the economy are but three major issues that will influence voters, but the party or parties that form the next government will also have views on how technology will be used to aid public services and the economy.

We took a look at the seven parties that participated in the recent leadership debates to see how technology would be used and how the technology industry would be affected.

Conservatives

David CameronSupport for the UK tech industry: The Conservatives have vowed to make the UK the “technology centre of Europe”, promising investment and support for startups and innovative businesses across the country. The party has also promised to make the UK the best country in the world for developing computing skills and will also create three million new apprenticeships. However a pledge to cut down on tax avoidance could impact some multinational tech companies.

Communications: Existing targets of 95 percent superfast broadband coverage would be met, with satellite services used to serve the final five percent. There are also plans for ‘ultrafast’ broadband rollout of 1Gbps. Mobile services should be available to 90 percent of the UK landmass by 2017, while more spectrum will be released to operators. The Tories also want Britain to take the lead in 5G development and will continue to ‘top-slice’ the licence fee to support broadband roll-out.

Public services: NHS patients would have access to their electronic records, while more government services will be moved online. The Conservatives would continue to be “the most transparent government in the world” with regards to data.

Energy: Conservative energy policy focuses on attaining affordable, secure supplies. Off-shore wind farms will be banned, but a long term strategy for nuclear, gas and “good value” green energy is outlined. The party hopes renewables will account for 19 percent of the energy supply but also supports fracking.

Privacy and surveillance: The manifesto commits to providing intelligence agencies with the tools they need to foil terrorist plots, which it says are becoming more difficult to disrupt because of technology. Police and security services would continue to have access to communications metadata, and the ability to intercept the content of suspects’ communications will also continue to be allowed, although stronger oversight of these powers is promised.

Labour

Ed_MilibandSupport for the UK tech industry: Labour pledges to fund science and innovation, with support and funding for fields like robotics, 3D printing and big data. The standard of vocational education would be improved and any firm gaining a major governmental contract, including IT, would be required to offer apprenticeships.

Communications: All parts of the country would have access to “affordable high-speed” broadband by the end of parliament. Labour promises to maximise the amount of private investment in the sector and intervene in areas of “market failure.”

Public services:  The party’s ‘digital government’ vision would make it easier to share data between different online services, which would be easier to use. It says the government would be more accountable and transparent, with an ‘open data by default’ policy. Freedom of Information (FoI) laws would be extended to private firms operating public services.

Energy: Labour wants the UK to be a leader in low carbon technology, believing it can create one million green jobs over the next decade. A legal target to remove carbon from the energy supply by 2030 would be implemented and the pursuit of “unconventional” oil and gas, such as fracking for shale gas, would be closely regulated.

Privacy and surveillance: Investigative laws would be updated keep up with technology is featured in the manifesto as is a pledge to ensure such abilities re not abused by the authorities.

Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg Liberal Democrats from World Economic Forum via WikipediaSupport for the UK tech industry: The Lib Dems have vowed to maintain the UK as a global leader in clean technology and the digital industries. More catapult innovation and tech centres will be established and the science budget would be ring-fenced. The party would build on the Tech City, Tech North and Cambridge hubs and support fast growing businesses that could create up to a million jobs.

The technology implications of government activity would be considered in any policy design process and government data sets would be released to help facilitate economic growth. The take-up of STEM subjects in schools would be promoted and cutting-edge digital skills courses for young people and the unemployed would be developed.

Communications: High speed broadband would be made available to 99.9 percent of households and businesses in rural and urban areas. The Lib Dems have also pledged to ensure the licence fee doesn’t increase faster than inflation.

Public Services:  A policy of ‘digital by default’ would be pursued and extended to local government. Citizens would have access to data that businesses hold on them and the highest standards of data protection by public service providers would be required. GPs would be able to conduct appointments over Skype. The party would also impose a moratorium on the creation of new government databases without Parliamentary authority.

Energy: The Lib Dems say they are the only party committed to protecting the environment and set out a vision of a ‘Green Economy’ in their manifesto. It wants to reduce energy demand by 50 percent by 2030 and will support research in low-carbon technology where the UK has a chance of leading the world: tidal power, carbon capture and storage, energy storage and ultra-low emission vehicles. The document pledges support for nuclear and biomass power and for fracking regulation.

Privacy and surveillance: The party would introduce a ‘Digital Bill of Rights’, curb the ability of police to gain journalist’s metadata without proper judicial authority, and hold a complete overhaul of surveillance in 2016. A commitment to justified and proportionate surveillance is outlined, while the party will continue to oppose the Snooper’s Charter and support net neutrality. Serious breaches of the Data Protection Act would be punishable by a custodial sentence.

Greens

Natalie Bennett GreensSupport for the UK tech industry: The Greens say they are in favour of science and technology, but will not support research that damages the environment. Government contracts, including IT, would not be outsourced but there would be support for small innovative businesses. Copyright would be made shorter and software patents would be banned. Government purchasing power would be used to aid the development of open source IT and all public data would be freely available. Undergraduate tuition fees would be abolished.

Communications: BT and other public telecommunications operators would be obligated to provide “affordable high-speed broadband-capable infrastructure to every household and small business.”

Public Services: The commercialisation of public data, such as health data and tax records would be prohibited.

Energy: Unsurprisingly, funding would provided for renewable energy research as well as other technology that would aid the environment. An £85 billion public programme of renewable electricity generation, flod defences and building insulation would be implemented

Privacy and surveillance: A Digital Bill of Rights would be introduced, safeguarding privacy. Censorship would not be allowed and “secret mass surveillance of the type exposed by Edward Snowden” would be opposed. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) would be repealed.

UKIP

Nigel Farage UKIPSupport for the UK tech industry: UKIP has no specific tech policies, but firms may have a shallower talent pool. Just 50,000 “skilled” immigrants would be allowed per year, determined by an “Australian-style” points system. However UKIP would improve vocational courses and waive tuition fees for students taking “approved degrees” in STEM subjects on the condition they stay in the UK for five years after graduating. SMBs would be supported and would have an easier time securing public sector contracts. UKIP has also pledged to crack down on tax avoidance.

Communications: No broadband or mobile policies, but the licence fee would be reviewed with “a view to its reduction”, potentially reducing the amount the government has to spend on broadband rollout through “top-slicing.”

Public services: “Atos-style” work capability assessments would be abandoned and returned to GPs.

Energy: UKIP would abandon much of the UK’s climate change policy on the belief they do not reduce emissions and just increase costs. It claims hydroelectric power is the only renewable source available at competitive prices and would abolish subsidies for wind farms. Fossil fuels would be promoted and fracking for shale gas permitted.

Privacy and surveillance: Police would be forced to delete the DNA and biometric data of people not convicted of a crime, but information on foreigners would be retained.

SNP

Nicola Sturgeon SNPSupport for the UK tech industry: The SNP would provide support and funding for innovative companies in Scotland and would work to foster links between research institutions and the private sector. Free university education, apprenticeships and post-study visa would improve the size and quality of talent pool available to tech firms, while the video games sector would receive particular attention.

Communications: The party would seek further investment for superfast broadband and 4Grollout and require service providers to adhere to universal service obligations. Programmes would tackle digital exclusion and £1.5 million allocated for free Wi-Fi in public buildings.

Public Services: An overhaul of the work capability assessment would be held.

Energy: The SNP would call for “ambitious” carbon reduction targets and opposes fracking. It would seek support for off-shore and on-shore wind as well as hydro, but conversely would demand as much support as possible from Westminster for the oil and gas industries.

Privacy and surveillance: A “proportionate” response to extremism would be called for with continued opposition to the ‘snooper’s charter’. The SNP says any surveillance measures would be “properly overseen.” It does however call for the UK Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) to take into account the threat of cyber-terrorism.

Plaid Cymru

Leanne Wood Plaid CymruSupport for the UK tech industry: The party’s manifesto demands the same level of autonomy currently enjoyed by Scotland and would see control of corporate tax handed to Cardiff. Plaid says it would make it harder for multinational companies to avoid tax and would create a Welsh Migration Service to attract skilled workers, with a specific reference to technology.

Communications: Plaid Cymru would ensure all homes and businesses in Wales have access to at least 30Mbps broadband and would demand mobile phone operators provide a better service to the entire country. Ofcom’s Welsh office would be granted more powers, particularly in the area of licensing.

Public services: The party opposes Universal Credit until a comprehensive review has been held and access does not require the Internet or IT skills. The standard of IT within the NHS would be increased to improve the quality and speed of patient care.

Energy: Renewables would be prioritised and a climate change act for Wales introduced. A publicly owned energy company would be established with “challenging but achievable” greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2030 and 2050. Fracking and new nuclear power plants would be opposed.

Privacy and surveillance: No concrete stance on surveillance, but Plaid does say it would “bolster” cybersecurity defence capabilities to combat growing threats.

Do you know all about public sector IT – the triumph and the tragedy? Take our quiz!

Who are you backing in the 2015 General Election?

  • Conservatives (32%)
  • Labour (27%)
  • UKIP (17%)
  • SNP (10%)
  • Green Party (5%)
  • Liberal Democrat (3%)
  • I'm not voting (3%)
  • Undecided (2%)
  • Plaid Cymru (1%)
  • Other (0%)

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