The Liberal Democrats’ general election manifesto promised to double innovation spending and roll out high-speed broadband to 99.9% of homes in the UK.
The Liberal Democrat Party focused on policies to support the technology sector and digital economy in greater detail than either Labour or the Conservatives, with plans for a digital bill of rights, skills development and controls on state surveillance.
“We will grow a high-skill, low-carbon economy by supporting education, training, infrastructure, innovation and technology,” said the LibDems. “We will double innovation spend in our economy, making the UK a world leader in advanced manufacturing, clean technology and digital industries.”
The document included a full page on “securing global leadership in technology” – the only one of the three main parties to dedicate as much space to the sector.
“The UK has a competitive advantage in key sectors of the modern economy that have the capacity to transform our lives. The UK’s digital sector is growing at a rate of over 10% a year, employing nearly 1.5 million people. 15% of all new companies last year were digital companies. We need to support this important sector of our economy,” said the manifesto.
Among the commitments promised, should the LibDems take part in the next government, were those to:
Complete the roll-out of high-speed broadband, to reach almost every household (99.9%) in the UK, as well as small businesses in 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 “scale-up” businesses that could create a million jobs over 20 years.
Promote the take-up of Stem [science, technology, engineering, maths] subjects in schools, retain coding on the National Curriculum and encourage entrepreneurship at all levels.
Maintain and develop the Government Digital Service (GDS), and the principle of “digital by default” in public services, pressing ahead with plans to extend this to local government.
Continue to release government data sets that can facilitate economic growth in an open and accessible format.
Ensure the technology implications of government activity are properly considered by introducing Technology Impact Assessments into the policy design process.
Develop cutting-edge digital skills courses for young people and the unemployed, working with private-sector employers and education and training providers.
The party said it will give a further boost to apprenticeships, with an aim to double the number of businesses which hire apprentices – especially in creative and digital industries. The Liberal Democrat Party said it will double innovation and research spending.
Building technology skills in the UK
The party will also re-instate measures for technology graduates to be able to obtain post-study work visas – a policy called for by many in the tech startup community. In schools, the LibDems want to encourage more children to study Stem subjects and to recruit more teachers with relevant skills in the subjects.
The Liberal Democrat manifesto acknowledged the importance of technology in other sectors of the economy. In energy, the party will continue the national smartmeter roll-out and guarantee that anyone on a prepayment meter can choose a smartmeter instead by 2017. In financial services, the LibDems will support the creation of new challenger banks – many of which are digitally based – and encourage the growth in new methods of finance, such as crowdfunding.
The party will support moves for an EU digital single market and scrap national barriers to British firms trading online. In transport, the Liberal Democrat Party will support the expansion of smart ticketing systems. And in healthcare, it will encourage Skype appointments for GPs, as well as a previously announced £250m fund for technology in the NHS.
Promoting a digital bill of rights
Core to the LibDem manifesto is a digital bill of rights to protect citizens online and control use of personal data. Freedom of information laws will be extended to cover private companies delivering public services, which will affect many IT suppliers. Where public data is used for research purposes – presumably covering the controversial Care.data project in NHS England – the Liberal Democrats insist data must be anonymised wherever possible, and will impose a moratorium on new government databases without Parliamentary authority.
During the coalition, the LibDems blocked the creation of the Communications Data Bill to give increased snooping powers to the security services, and the party manifesto responded to public concerns over state surveillance in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations.
“We will establish in legislation that the police and intelligence agencies should not obtain data on UK residents from foreign governments that it would not be legal to obtain in the UK under UK law,” said the manifesto – a clear reference to Snowden’s claims that GCHQ used data collected by the US National Security Agency to bypass UK rules.
“In the modern digital age, the power of the state and corporate interests can threaten our privacy and liberty. There will be a complete overhaul of surveillance powers in 2016,” said the Liberal Democrat general election manifesto.
“We need to ensure this and other opportunities are seized as a chance to control excessive state power and ensure that, in an era when surveillance is easier than ever before, we maintain the right to privacy and free speech.
“Privacy should always be the norm for personal data, meaning surveillance must always be justified and proportionate and any demand to read private encrypted communications must be targeted and proportionate.”
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