What are the main political parties’ proposed technology policies?

Kingly Brookes, May 1st, 2015 Kingly Brookes

With little time left on the political campaign trail, this UK General Election continues to be the most incalculable in living memory. As the prospect of a hung parliament looms even larger, those parties considered to be front-runners in any proposed coalition are just as impossible to call. Now all parties have published their election manifestos, where does the UK technology industry stand, should two of the main three parties decide to align?

Conservative Party

According to the Conservatives, it seems they are determined to keep the UK at the top of Europe’s technology industry. With much talk about mobile infrastructure, superfast broadband, and greater investment in technology education. The word technology appeared in one form or another, no less than 46 times in their manifesto. Making much of their claim to be champions of small to medium enterprises and start-up ventures, past performance should bode well.

Recent data provided by data analysts CB Insights, shows the UK’s venture capital deals in technology during 2014 were the highest in Europe. 225 were struck in the UK compared to Germany’s 154, and France’s 63. This provided VC of 1.6 billion GBP in 2014, up a massive 78% on 2013.

Labour Party

Few concrete proposals have been offered in Labour’s manifesto. It lambasted the coalition for failure to deliver 12 of the 25 digital exemplars they promised in 2012, despite having ploughed millions into the Government Digital Service budget.

Labour maintains its intention to put digital technology at the forefront of many of its policies, and cited the public sector, growth, education, industrial strategy, and improving productivity. Pledges have been made to increase high-speed broadband and mobile accessibility throughout the UK by the end of the new parliament.

There is much focus on community projects designed to improve people’s digital knowledge, skills, and increase accessibility to the internet for all. Using digital technology to improve government services while reducing costs was mentioned, without expanding on the how this would be achieved or the cost-savings involved in this initiative.

Almost every sector of the UK’s technology industry was mentioned, including robotics and 3D printing, but nothing was mentioned on investment or venture capital, with no concrete proposals made.

Liberal Democrats

Having ruled themselves out of another coalition with the Tories, the Lib Dems still see themselves as being able to exert pressure on any new government. Their manifesto abounds with promises to Britain’s technology sector to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of the industry. Intending to ring-fence the science budget, they promise more technological and innovation centres: to build on the Tech North, Tech City, and Cambridge hubs, and provide greater support for growing businesses.

At a time when the UK is massively short of technology graduates, the Lib Dems propose to invest heavily in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects both in schools and universities. Greater emphasis would be placed on offering the unemployed courses in all areas of digital technology. Superfast broadband and mobile connectivity are again high on the list.

Many of the proposals across all three parties are similar, however a number of other proposals are unique to the Liberal Democrats – Technology Impact Assessments, supporting of digital challenger banks, a Digital Bill of Rights, scale ups, cluster networks, and ‘Securing Global Leadership in Technology’ are not mentioned in any other party’s manifesto.

 

Our View 

Over the years various Governments have realised the benefits of ensuring that the UK remains competitive on the world stage in terms of the support if offers to technology companies. The UK benefits not only from the support given to UK companies but also by being able to attract inward investment from overseas in the face of competition from other jurisdictions. Whatever the makeup of the new Government it will be vital for them to continue to robustly support the technology sector through a mixture focussed tax reliefs, funding infrastructure, and education.