The free broadband plan has attracted attention, but the party has a number of other proposals for the use and regulation of technology. PublicTechnology rounds up the major manifesto policies
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For large swathes of the electorate, digital transformation, cyber-resilience, and intelligent automation tools are not much of a vote-winner at the best of times.
And this general election takes place in what could hardly be described as the best of times.
So, amid the never-ending Brexit back and forth, the tussles over tax rates, and the fight for the future of the NHS, it was a little surprising to see a technology policy dominate the political news cycles for a day or two.
Labour’s proposals to renationalise part of BT and deliver free full-fibre broadband to all may have captured the attention of the public and the media. But closer inspection of the party’s manifesto reveals that it is just one of a handful of eye-catching technology initiatives it plans to roll out if it wins power on 12 December.
In the first of a series of articles looking at the key digital, data and IT policies of the major parties, PublicTechnology runs through five key tech takeaways from the Labour manifesto.
A dedicated cyber minister
A year ago, a report from the parliamentary Joint Committee on National Security Strategy called for the government to appoint a cabinet-level minister dedicated to cybersecurity. This recommendation came in light of what the committee found to be a “wholly inadequate” ministerial response to cybersecurity issues to date.
The current government has not acted on this advice – but Labour’s manifesto states that, if elected, it would do so.
“A Labour government, ever more dependent on digital technology, will overhaul our cybersecurity by creating a co-ordinating minister and regular reviews of cyber-readiness,” the document says.
The party also states that it would “review the role and remit of the National Cyber Security Centre to determine whether it should be given powers as an auditing body, with the ability to issue warnings to private and public sector organisations and designate risk”.
The “structure and roles of the National Crime Agency” will also be reviewed, the party says, to ensure that it can best respond to cybercrime.
Automatic voter registration
A number of countries around the world – including Germany, Belgium, and Canada – already operate systems in which existing public sector data is used to automatically register citizens on the electoral roll.
Labour’s manifesto outlines plans to introduce such a system in the UK. This measure will sit alongside a range of others designed to allow more people to vote.
The party says: “We will oversee the largest extension of the franchise in generations, reducing the voting age to 16, giving full voting rights to all UK residents, making sure everyone who is entitled to vote can do so by introducing a system of automatic voter registration, and abandoning plans to introduce voter ID which has been shown to harm democratic rights.”
No more digital-only services
The manifesto also puts forward various ideas to combat the potential harm of technology – or at least an over-reliance on it.
The party pledges that, if elected, it will ensure no services are offered on a “digital-only” basis. It will support other channels by hiring thousands more public servants to staff telephone lines or offer in-person meetings with citizens.
“The Conservative’s ‘digital only’ approach is excluding vulnerable people,” the manifesto says. “Labour will end the digital barrier and offer telephone, face-to-face and outreach support. We will recruit 5,000 additional advisors to deliver this.”
Protecting jobs impacted by new technology
Labour says that, if elected, it will take steps to ensure more rights and protections for workers whose job is at risk of being lost or reduced as a result of technological advancement.
According to the manifesto, the party plans to bring in “a legal right to collective consultation on the implementation of new technology in workplaces”.
But, elsewhere, the party outlines a desire to embrace the creation of new tech products – but do so in a way that promotes UK manufacturing and creates jobs with good pay and conditions.
“We will ensure that new technologies aren’t just invented here, but are engineered, manufactured and exported from here,” the manifesto says. “We will put British innovation at the heart of our procurement to support local sourcing and reshoring, so that every investment we make strengthens our manufacturing and engineering sectors and supply chains and creates hundreds of thousands of good, unionised jobs here at home. We will use the power of public procurement to strengthen local jobs and supply chains and will require all companies bidding for public contracts to recognise trade unions, pay suppliers on time and demonstrate equalities best practice.”
Free, public-owned broadband
This headline policy may be familiar, but the manifesto provides a great deal more detail about Labour’s proposals for a nationalised full-fibre broadband network offering free connectivity to all UK citizens.
We will ensure that new technologies aren’t just invented here, but are engineered, manufactured and exported from here
The party plans to “bring the broadband-relevant parts of BT into public ownership”. This will include “a jobs guarantee for all workers in existing broadband infrastructure and retail broadband work”.
Labour will then create two new government entities: British Digital Infrastructure; and British Broadband Service (BBS).
The former will work on the rollout of full-fibre networks to the 90-92% of UK buildings that are not yet connected.
“BBS will coordinate the delivery of free broadband in tranches as the full-fibre network is rolled out, beginning with the communities worst served by existing broadband networks”, the manifesto says.
It adds: “Taxation of multinationals, including tech giants, will pay for the operating costs of the public full-fibre network. The plan will boost jobs, tackle regional inequality and improve quality of life as part of a mission to connect the country.”
Look out on PublicTechnology over the coming days for a rundown of the major tech policies in the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos.