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Open door for bold technology manifestos



Analysis: Policies on technology will have a minimal influence on the 8 June general election, which leaves the political parties free to stick their necks out

Nobody pretends that promises on technology will swing the increasingly predictable outcome of the 8 June general election. That may be good news if it encourages boldness as the parties put together the final touches to their policy proposals ahead of publishing their manifestos, with the Conservatives due to kick off the process this week.

One guaranteed manifesto feature is the apparently low risk promise of superfast broadband. Here we can expect a bidding war: pledges to give households the right to speeds of 30 Mbps, well up on the 10 Mbps promised by the last government, are likely to be topped by promises of gigabit-per-second fibre to the home.

Likewise on the digital economy: the Conservatives, as well as Labour and the LibDems are likely to promise action to tackle concerns raised by so-called “gig employment”.

Conservative policy-makers will be anxious to be seen to be distancing the party from the close links with US based technology giants that emerged during the Cameron-Osborne years. They will note the advice of Daniel Korski, former deputy head of the Downing Street Policy Unit, that the rise of the likes of AirBnB and Uber has been disproportionately beneficial for the urban, educated middle classes.

“Those who feel left behind by globalisation also feel left behind by digitisation,” Korski wrote last month in an appeal for bold digital policies.

Promises elusive

Firm promises on digital transformation of public services however may be elusive. A decade and a half on from the National Programme for IT in the NHS, promises to computerise healthcare remain toxic. Despite the pressing need for investment, especially at the social care end of the service, the most we can hope for is vague aspiration.

Labour and the LibDems are also likely to make promises about controlling the re-use of patient data by the pharmaceuticals industry.

One data sharing idea that could well be taken up is the Open Data Institute’s proposal for a ‘mobility data hub’ to provide a neutral space between government and private business for data sharing.

On crime and justice, the manifesto writers may be holder in proposing IT led reform. The Conservatives are almost certain to promise to resurrect the Prisons and Courts Bill, killed by the general election announcement, with its programme of digital courts.

Clues to the intentions of Labour – which is desperately in need of a modernising message - in the digital manifesto published by Jeremy Corbyn when facing his leadership challenge last year.

Passports and portal

Proposals included plans for “digital citizen passports” and a portal for learning resources. The former would be used when interacting with services, possibly for commercial transactions, and maybe for automatic enrolment on the electoral register when the holder moves home.

As UKAuthority noted at the time, the passport’s relationship with GOV.UK Verify was unexplained.

As for the reform of the government machine, Korski maintains that the time is right for bold promises based on the convergence of four advances:  artificial intelligence, data science, predictive analytics and blockchain.

“The post-Silicon Valley era is near,” he said. “The UK can lead the development of technology for government and become a beneficiary by seeing cheaper, better public services, while becoming a global home for this new generation of mission-driven technologists. But it requires an act of nurturing.”

Alas, on past form Theresa May is more likely to play it safe.

Image by Paul Abertella, CC BY 2.0 through flickr

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