Politicians clash over future of UK tech industry

Labour claims Digital Britain will inject life into IT trade, while Tories deride ?pitifully unambitious? plans
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Parliament is at loggerheads over the future of the UK’s technology industry, ahead of the looming general election on May 6th.

The current Labour Government has been increasingly vocal on IT issues in recent months, with plans to create a ‘super-fast’ broadband network and pledges to stimulate growth in the IT industry through investment in skills academies.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills told us that these national projects will provide a direct boost to the PC and technology trade, since more people online means more installation work, PC and equipment sales, and repairs.

“We hope that better broadband access will stimulate increased investment in the products that support these technologies, both at home and in the workplace,” said a spokesperson. “The IT industry is crucial to the future economic success of the UK. Digital Britain set out to build a world-leading digital knowledge economy for the UK, stimulating growth and jobs. New Industry, New Jobs highlighted the digital sector as a key area for economic development.

“We are also investing in the skills needed for the IT workforce to flourish by providing £8 million for the development of a National Skills Academy (NSA) in IT over three years. One of the key aims of the NSA is to accelerate the career progression and earning potential of IT professions.”

However, the Conservatives have called Labour’s plans ‘pitifully unambitious’. Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt told PCR: “It is clear that there is demand for digital technology, but often the lack of modern infrastructure prevents people from using such technologies. The Conservatives have been setting the pace in calling for a rejuvenated digital infrastructure. The Government’s Digital Economy Bill has come at the eleventh hour of Labour’s third Parliament... Labour dithered with reports and consultations before taking any serious action for the digital economy, and even now their plans are pitifully unambitious.”

When asked if the Tories would rule out tax breaks or funding for UK technology firms, Hunt said: “Absolutely not. Clearly we are in an economic mess at the moment, and tackling the state of the public finances must be a priority, so tax breaks and Government funding cannot be promised in the short term. However, some form of Government help may be necessary in the future.”

IT issues have shot up the agenda of British politics, with the House of Lords publishing a report calling for more international cooperation on cyber-security last month. Eugene Kaspersky, founder of Kaspersky Lab, said: “We depend on digital networks and we will see more and more [cyberattacks]. Last year I had a good meeting with peers from the House of Lords. Now they are taking it seriously.”

Click here to read PCR editor Andrew Wooden's blog on the role the IT industry is set to play in this year's general election.

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