Context's Adam Simon looks at tech policies ahead of the general election

How much does tech figure on the radar of the party manifestos?

Adam Simon, Context’s global MD for retail business development, looks at tech policies from the different political parties ahead of the general election.

You would be forgiven for thinking that the Internet of Things Revolution was not taking place when you read the party manifestos. Overall it is disappointing to see so little focus on a topic which should be pushed by our politicians as a focus for the future development of our economy.

Labour’s input is minimal.

“Labour’s longer-term approach will drive innovation and build on our strengths as a leader in digital technology.”

There is a commitment to ensure that all parts of the country benefit from affordable high speed broadband by the end of the Parliament, and to work with industry to improve mobile infrastructure and remove “not-spots”. This is disappointing given the good work which was done last year with the “Number One in Digital” report, headed up by Jon Cruddas, and created through a grassroots network of 300 digital professionals at the request of Chuka Umumna.

The Conservative manifesto promises the following:

  • We will secure the delivery of superfast broadband in urban and rural areas to provide coverage to 95 per cent of the UK by the end of 2017
  • We will hold 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

They also have an “ambition that ultrafast broadband should be available to nearly all UK premises as soon as practicable”, along with plans for Britian to be a ‘world leader’ in the development of 5G.

Lastly they commit £6.9 billion of capital spend in the UK’s research infrastructure until 2021 which includes the new Alan Turing Institute focused on big data, as well as pledging support to the Life Sciences and the Automotive Council and to channel resources into the “Eight Great Technologies” where Britain is set to be a global leader.

The Greens put this budget to shame by pledging to increase public spending on scientific research from 0.5 per cent of GDP to a mouthwatering one per cent by 2025. In today’s terms that means increasing the science budget from the current actual of £6 billion per year to £20 billion – but I am not convinced that the Green budget balances.

Liberal Democrats have the most comprehensive view of technology, dedicating a paragraph to “Securing global leadership in technology” with eight recommendations:

  • Completing the roll-out of high-speed broadband to reach 99.9 per cent of households in the UK, as well as small businesses in both rural and urban areas
  • Build on the success of Tech City, Tech North and the Cambridge Tech cluster with a network across the UK acting as incubators for technology companies
  • Support fast-growing businesses that could create a million jobs following the Sherry Coutu report into these scale-ups
  • Promote the take-up of STEM subjects at schools, retain coding on the National Curriculum and encourage entrepreneurship at all levels
  • Maintain and develop the award-winning Government Digital Service, and the principle of Digital by Default in public services
  • Continue to release government data sets that can facilitate economic growth
  • Ensure the technology implications of government activity are properly considered by introducing Technology Impact assessments
  • Develop cutting-edge digital skills courses for young people and the unemployed, working with private sector employers and education and training providers

UKIP and the SNP do not have a technology policy in their manifesto (though UKIP does say students studying degrees in technology, maths, medicine, engineering and science will not have to repay tuition fees, with the condition that they work in the UK for five years after graduation).

Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru emphasises that our children should understand the technology that surrounds them, through coding and advanced computer technology development lessons, and they mention specifically the Raspberry Pi device.

Three cheers to Wales for mentioning a great British success in the world of technology!

About the author

Adam Simon is global MD for retail business development at tech analyst Context.

Image source: Shutterstock

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