When we wrote our blog detailing the IT-oriented policies contained in the manifestos of the 3 main UK-wide parties back in 2017, we didn't realise the opportunity to repeat this exercise would be presented quite so soon, and yet here we are! So, as we hurtle towards yet another general election, here's the IT bits from each manifesto.
- We intend to bring full fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025.
- We have announced a raft of legislative changes to accelerate progress and £5 billion of new public funding to connect premises which are not commercially viable.
- We will use new air traffic control technology to cut the time aircraft spend waiting to land.
- We will overhaul our cybersecurity by creating a co-ordinating minister and regular reviews of cyber-readiness.
- We will ensure libraries are preserved for future generations and updated with Wi-Fi and computers.
- Labour will deliver free full-fibre broadband to all by 2030.
- We will enforce a legal duty of care to protect our children online, impose fines on companies that fail on online abuse and empower the public with a Charter of Digital Rights
- We will complete the confirmed hospital rebuilds and invest more in primary care settings, modern AI, cyber technology and state-of-the-art medical equipment, including more MRI and CT scanners.
- We will introduce a legal right to collective consultation on the implementation of new technology in workplaces.
- A programme of installing hyper-fast, fibre-optic broadband across the UK – with a particular focus on connecting rural areas.
- Support the UK’s diverse, inclusive tech sector by teaching core skills such as logic, verbal reasoning and creativity in schools.
- Support the growth of new jobs and businesses in the tech sector by allowing companies to claim R∓D tax credits against the cost of purchasing datasets and cloud computing, simplifying the regulatory landscape and speeding up regulatory change
- Ensure that new technologies are used in ethical and responsible ways by introducing a Lovelace Code of Ethics to ensure the use of personal data and artificial intelligence is unbiased, transparent and accurate, and respects privacy
- Introducing a kitemark for companies that meet the highest ethical standards in their development and use of artificial intelligence and other new technologies.
- Convening a citizens’ assembly to determine when it is appropriate for the government to use algorithms in decision-making
- Develop a mechanism to allow the public to share in the profits made by tech companies in the use of their data
- Empower consumers and ensure that everyone can enjoy the benefits of new technology, by setting a UK-wide target for digital literacy
- Enable people whose jobs are affected by automation to gain new skills and retrain with our new Skills Wallets, so that they can work in the good, well-paying jobs of the future.
Much like our last look at the parties' commitments, there's one policy that unites all three, and that's provisions on rolling out fibre broadband. All three seem to recognise that public money will be required to ensure 100% connectivity - some areas are far too remote and sparsely populated for a for-profit company to consider connecting up. In Labour's case, they are taking this a step further and propose to nationalise Openreach entirely. Openreach is currently responsible for the majority (although not all) of the actual infrastructure work in laying the new fibre cables necessary for this next generation broadband. This is seperate to the plan for free broadband, which we'll discuss in a bit. In terms of timelines here, the Lib Dems proposal is so vague that this can't be judged. The Conservatives have committed to 100% coverage by 2025. Whether this is achievable or wildly optimistic remains to be seen. It is worth noting that they committed to high speed broadband being available to all by 2020 in their last manifesto, and this has not happened. Labour have given themselves an extra five years to achieve the same thing - full coverage by 2030.
Now back to that eye catching commitment from Labour to provide free broadband for all by 2030. To achieve this, they will nationalise the broadband provision section of BT. There isn't really any detail on this proposal beyond that headline, so any further analysis has to be based on guesswork. Nevertheless, there are definitely questions that would need answering here. If broadband is being provided for free, what happens to all the other internet service providers? There would probably be room for one or two providing niche business-specific services like static IP addresses and premium support, but what of the rest? Also, getting into the nitty-gritty a bit, what about the routers that provide the connections? Not only will these presumably need to be provided for every home in the country, but they will also need to be replaced when they fall out of support / go pop eventually. However, as mentioned, we're speculating several steps ahead of the detail that has been provided here, so we look forward to the detail of this policy being fleshed out. We will no doubt revisit this in a future blog should Labour receive a majority
As for the rest, it is the Conservatives' manifesto that is very thin on the ground with IT commitments this time. There's a vague pledge to keep children safe online from Labour. They just need to be careful here not to fall into the same trap that resulted in the obviously flawed and then cancelled plan to require ID to access adult websites.
The other thing that both the Labour and Lib Dem manifesto touches on is increasing automation in the workplace. As technology improves, this is a discussion that will become louder and louder over the coming years - what are we going to do as a society as robots / computers are able to do more of the tasks that large numbers of people are currently employed to do now? It's not a problem that will become critical during the next parliamentary term, but it will almost certainly be higher on the priority list by then. You never know, the next one of these manifesto analysis blogs might be written by a robot...