We are now just two weeks away from the election, with each of the main parties having published their vision for the UK in their manifestos.
As outlined in techUK’s own manifesto last week, we believe technology is the key to a better future. It is impossible to underestimate how fundamental technology will be to our future wellbeing, for people, society, the economy and our planet.
Whoever the next Government is, they must be determined to grasp this opportunity, and use technology with purpose to make things better. Below, techUK takes a look at each of the parties’ manifestos and what they mean for the technology sector.
The results are a mixed bag but there are commons threads across all the parties. While they may disagree on the method, each of the main parties are committed to increasing digital connectivity across the country, protecting citizens from online harms, giving workers the skills they need to grow, and changing the R&D system for the future.
Whatever form the next Government takes, techUK will continue its constructive engagement on technology issues, representing the sector and driving forward a pro-innovation agenda. For more information, or if you've got any questions, feel free to get in touch with the policy team.
The first major party to launch their manifesto, the Lib Dems set out a moderate offer on tech. While there were some welcome announcement on skills and R&D, there was limited detail on how some of their more radical proposals would work, or how they would resolve some of the big challenges facing the sector today.
The Party’s central offer was a Lovelace Code of Ethics on personal data and artificial intelligence. The proposed code is to be taught in schools, while tech companies could be ‘called in’ by Government if their products breach this code. Companies would also be required to ensure all products provide short, clear versions of their T&Cs, setting out facts on data and privacy. The manifesto did not provide details on how such a code would be drawn up and what role industry would have in shaping it.
The Lib Dems also proposed convening a citizens’ assembly to determine when it is appropriate for the government to use algorithms in decision-making. This would be joined by the development of a mechanism to allow the public to share in the profits made by tech companies in the use of their data.
It was good to see techUK’s policy of allowing R&D tax credits to be claimed against operational expenditures such a cloud computing or purchasing data sets make it into the manifesto, showing the party is thinking about increasing flexibility within the R&D system. This welcome announcement was supported by a broader commitment to boost R&D spending to 2.4%.
Finally, the Lib Dems provide the most detail on the proposals to upskill the workforce, proposing a UK-wide target for digital literacy so everyone can enjoy the benefits of new technology. Looking towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the creation of a new national skills strategy would match jobs, skills and people, with the proposed £10,000 “skills wallet” enabling people to retrain and upskill to fulfil these roles.
Next up was the Labour Party as it released much anticipated 2019 manifesto. The 2017 manifesto was attributed to much of Labour’s success in late in 2017 campaign where the party deprived Theresa May of her majority. Jeremy Corbyn tried to repeat this feat last week by unveiling the 2019 Manifesto ‘It’s Time For Real Change’ at a packed conference hall in Birmingham.
The manifesto’s title is apt, as across its 107 pages and the accompanying documents spelling out how Labour will fund its plans this manifesto is a radical proposal to rewrite large chunks of the UK’s existing economic settlement. These proposals are based around key objectives of increasing public ownership, reviewing corporate tax reliefs, a significant drive towards transforming the economy onto a more green and sustainable footing and increasing the role of the state in the determining the direction of both the economy and society.
For the tech sector this manifesto presents a mixed bag of good practical policy suggestions, laudable ambitions and policy proposals that simply need to be sent back to the drawing board.
Labour’s £400 billion package of long term funding to invest in green technologies and revitalize public services provides the tech sector opportunities for growth, while ambitious commitments on further and lifelong education and cybersecurity skills are to be welcomed. However, techUK simply cannot support nationalisation plans for broadband which seem fundamentally misguided. These plans would result in huge amounts of resources being spent to bring a market which is performing well into the public sector. Investment in improving the network is to be welcomed, but Labour would be better placed spending it’s transformation fund elsewhere rather than proceeding with these plans. You can read more on our view on these proposals here.
Further, the party is seeking to junk much of the R&D tax credit system that business see real value in. Many of techUK’s members view this as a competitive advantage for the UK. Labour’s proposals seek to make R&D omnidirectional, determined by the state, when R&D is best done with a partnership between public and private sectors. Likewise it is hard to pass much comment on the proposed Charter of Digital Rights without any detail on what it would contain and how it would interplay with wider efforts such as the General Data Protection Regulation.
The launch of the Conservative manifesto last weekend was a quiet one, aiming to avoid the mistakes made by Theresa May in 2017. The manifesto is light touch on many areas, unsurprisingly following the theme of the Conservative campaign: to “Get Brexit Done”. There were few new announcements in the document, with the bulk of policy proposals having already been announced in the weeks and months prior.
For the tech sector there is not dedicated chapter on internet regulation as in 2017, but there are policies spread throughout the manifesto. This includes a recommitment to the Online Harms framework while “defending freedom of expression and the role of free press”, while also announcing a new review into the Gambling Act and the internet, including video-game loot boxes.
techUK is pleased to see our call for a review into the definition of R&D being adopted, and for the increase in R&D spending. Investments like cloud computing and data are key drivers for productivity, and it is only right they are incentivised. Likewise, the £3bn national skills fund for people to gain qualifications, return to work or switch career is a welcome one. Details remain sparse but it is a welcome first step, and a policy techUK will be closely involved in should the Conservatives win the election.
While on connectivity it repeats the Prime Minister’s goal for full fibre and gigabit connectivity for every home and business by 2025, with £5bn public funding for hard to reach areas. You can read more about our views on the Prime Minister’s broadband commitments here.
Despite some of these positives steps in the manifesto, there remain concerns over Brexit and the UK’s future trading relationship. The tech sector is largely services driven and relies on flexible immigration rules to attract the best and brightest talent from around the world. While some measures, such as the post-study work visa, are welcome, there remain serious concerns about the effect of ending freedom of movement and the suitability of the future immigration system for the tech sector.
Finally, on Wednesday the SNP had the honour of being the last major party to publish its manifesto, with media attention slightly drowned out by Labour’s press conference on impact of a proposed UK-USA Trade Deal on the NHS. The SNP are clear in their ambition: they do not claim they can win an election or form a Government, but they could be a power broker in a “progressive alliance”.
Outside of the usual calls for independence and stopping Brexit, on technology the SNP have a strong focus on investment and protection. Unsurprisingly they call for greater investment in connectivity – brandishing their own £600m investment in superfast broadband as a call for Westminster to increase investment in all forms of digital connectivity.
Beyond connectivity they want the digital divide to be bridged and for citizens to be protected from access bills. The SNP call for the internet to be classified as an essential service, for the UK Government to legislate for a “social tariff” and for service providers to create more affordable tariffs and packages.
The protections do not stop here, as the SNP produce one of the most in-depth proposals on online safety of any manifesto. The SNP suggest a statutory duty of care and mandatory obligations to remove unsuitable content online; a new independent Online Regulator with the power to impose fines and block websites; and age verification, all funded by a levy on technology companies.
This is not the only tax or levy on the digital sector the SNP propose. In addition the manifesto lists its support for the introduction of an “online retailer tax” and increased multilateral efforts to address tax challenges arising from the digitization of the economy.