With the General Election finally upon us tomorrow, am I the only person to be disappointed at just how little technology was mentioned in the various parties’ manifestos? One of the least debated topics in this election is our productivity which has not improved in absolute terms or relative to countries like France and Germany which are 20% more productive. Technology is a key to unlocking higher productivity and building a positive economic future with more employment and higher salaries.
As I review the manifestos, I start with Labour whose technology input is minimal and only contains very broad statements. If only they had used the good work which was done last year with the “Number One in Digital” report, headed up by Jon Cruddas, and created through a grassroots network of 300 digital professionals. That would have been an excellent basis for a manifesto.
Conservatives focused narrowly on broadband and mobile services and in my view missed the opportunity to link technology to their positioning as the party of business and entrepreneurs.
Overall of the three major parties, the Liberal Democrats seem to have the most comprehensive view of technology, dedicating a paragraph to “Securing global leadership in technology” with eight recommendations which merit being detailed here:
- Completing the roll-out of high-speed broadband to reach 99.9 per cent of households in the UK, as well as small businesses in both rural and urban areas [my comment – ambitious compared to the others and unfunded]
- 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 businesses that could create a million jobs following the Sherry Coutu report into these scale-ups
- Promote the take-up of STEM subjects at schools, retain coding on the National Curriculum and encourage entrepreneurship at all levels
- Maintain and develop the award-winning Government Digital Service, and the principle of Digital by Default in public services
- Continue to release government data sets that can facilitate economic growth
- Ensure the technology implications of government activity are properly considered by introducing Technology Impact assessments
- Develop cutting-edge digital skills courses for young people and the unemployed, working with private sector employers and education and training providers
UKIP and the SNP do not have a technology policy in their manifesto (though UKIP does say students studying degrees in technology, maths, medicine, engineering and science will not have to repay tuition fees, with the condition that they work in the UK for five years after graduation).
The Greens made a totally unrealistic but mouthwatering promise to increase research in science from 0.5 per cent of GDP to one per cent by 2025.
Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru emphasises that our children should understand the technology that surrounds them, through coding and advanced computer technology development lessons, and they mention specifically the Raspberry Pi device. Three cheers to Wales for mentioning a great British success in the world of technology!
So will your vote take into account the technology promises of the parties? I doubt it, but it is the politicians who have missed out on an opportunity to shape the election agenda around such a positive topic.