Manifesto tech takeaways: Labour plans National Data Library and standardised police IT

As it prepares for the possibility of taking power for the first time in 14 years, Keir Starmer’s party’s tech policies include plans to better equip HMRC and UK regulators

Labour’s manifesto is simply titled ‘Change’ and, beyond this headline instance, the word crops up many more times across the document’s 136 pages.

Perhaps this fondness for change is just as well; if it is elected to form a government in three weeks’ time, the party will need to adjust to plenty of it that has taken place since it was last in power in 2010. Nowhere is this new world more evident than in the development of technology that has occurred over the past 14 years.

At the point at which Gordon Brown left Downing Street, Instagram – now the world’s third-most-visited website – was still two months away from publishing its first post, while it would be a year until a member of the public booked a taxi via Uber services, and two years until 4G mobile internet services were available in the UK.

How government uses technology – and designs related policy – has also changed significantly in recent years, with the Conservative government creating bodies including the Government Digital Service and, latterly, the Central Digital and Data Office. It has also overseen the development of the GOV.UK and the NHS App, as well as the delivery of various digital and data strategies: the most recent of which is due to conclude next year.

As well as taking charge of such existing initiatives, the Labour party’s newly published manifesto makes plain that it has a few technological designs of its own. PublicTechnology has picked out a few highlights.

A National Data Library
In a section dedicated to ‘driving innovation’, Labour makes several of its biggest digital and data commitments, including the creation of some new dedicated public bodies and facilities.

Among these is a proposal for a National Data Library; this initiative would “bring together existing research programmes and help deliver data-driven public services, whilst maintaining strong safeguards and ensuring all of the public benefit”, according to the manifesto.

The library would form part of a broader national industrial strategy that “supports the development of the artificial intelligence sector”. A key means of achieving this would be the removal of “planning barriers to new datacentres”, the Labour plan says.

“Labour will scrap short funding cycles for key R&D institutions in favour of ten-year budgets that allow meaningful partnerships with industry to keep the UK at the forefront of global innovation,” it adds. “We will work with universities to support spinouts; and work with industry to ensure start-ups have the access to finance they need to grow. We will also simplify the procurement process to support innovation and reduce micromanagement with a mission driven approach.”

Investing in HMRC technology
In line with expectations, the Labour plan includes a commitment to deliver significant extra funding to support the operations of HM Revenue and Customs.

The manifesto enshrines a pledge of £855m in additional budget for the department to support its work to “reduce tax avoidance”. A key area of investment will be new tech.

“We will modernise HMRC and change the law to tackle tax avoidance,” the manifesto adds. “We will increase registration and reporting requirements, strengthen HMRC’s powers, invest in new technology and build capacity within HMRC. This, combined with a renewed focus on tax avoidance by large businesses and the wealthy, will begin to close the tax gap and ensure everyone pays their fair share.”

Updates to both tax legislation and HMRC’s infrastructure will help deliver an extra £5.23bn in revenue over the five-year term of the next parliament, Labour claims.

Equipping regulators for the AI age
Another new public body that Labour promises to bring into existence is the Regulatory Innovation Office, which will be established with a remit to help modernise the UK’s framework of regulation – and the watchdogs that enforce it.

The organisation will be created by “bringing together existing functions across government” and will begin operating in a landscape where “regulators are currently ill-equipped to deal with the dramatic development of new technologies, which often cut across traditional industries and sectors”, the manifesto says.

This issue is exemplified by the rise of artificial intelligence which, according to Labour, requires much greater regulation – including clear prohibitions on some the technology’s most harmful uses.

“This office will help regulators update regulation, speed up approval timelines, and co-ordinate issues that span existing boundaries,” the party’s plan says. “Labour will ensure the safe development and use of AI models by introducing binding regulation on the handful of companies developing the most powerful AI models and by banning the creation of sexually explicit deepfakes. Labour will support diverse business models which bring innovation and new products to the market. This includes the co-operative sector, and we will aim to double the size of the UK’s co-operative and mutuals sector. We will work with the sector to address the barriers they face, such as accessing finance.”

Performance data and clinical trials in the NHS app
Labour’s plan for government includes the development and implementation of an “NHS innovation and adoption strategy” to help support the use of digital and data across the health service.

“This will include a plan for procurement, giving a clearer route to get products into the NHS, coupled with reformed incentive structures to drive innovation and faster regulatory approval for new technology and medicines,” the manifesto says.

A key part of its digital health plan is a pledge to “transform the NHS app”. Although much of the detail of what such a transformation will involve does not appear to differ meaningfully from existing or planned functionality, there are some new proposals that are intended to enable citizens to better “hold health services to account and understand what their choices are”.

“[We will be] putting patients in control of their own health to better manage their medicine, appointments, and health needs,” Labour says. “This will include giving performance information on local services, and notifications of vaccinations and health checks. Patients will be able to see the medical guidelines for the treatment they should get.”

The app will also add new features intended to expand the number of people that can take part in clinical trials, by “making the process more efficient and accessible [and] speeding up recruitment”.

This will ultimately help support the objective of “putting Britain at the forefront of transforming treatment for dementia”.

Standardising approaches to police IT
The manifesto puts tech into a central role in its plan for the future of policing.

This is, in no small part, because fraud – which is now largely committed digitally – now “accounts for almost two in five crimes”, the party says.

“Labour will introduce a new expanded fraud strategy to tackle the full range of threats, including online, public sector and serious fraud,” the manifesto adds. “We will work with technology companies to stop their platforms being exploited by fraudsters. Criminals never stop looking for new ways to target victims. Police must change the way they operate too, with technology and investigative techniques keeping pace with modern threats.”

To help deliver this modernisation, the party pledges that it would seek to introduce common models for buying and implementing technology – to be used throughout all forces.

“We will work with national policing bodies and police staff to standardise approaches to procurement, IT, professional standards and training,” the manifesto adds. “And we will ensure the service is organised so as to enable investment in specialist capabilities, such as digital forensics, and to more effectively tackle cross-border issues such as serious organised crime.”

Sam Trendall

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