Analysis: Parties need their own technology manifesto and a ‘white heat of technology’ moment
Harold Wilson’s often misquoted "White Heat" statement still resonates 51 years after the Labour leader used it to convince the public of a brighter tomorrow built on Britain’s prowess as an inventor of world beating technology.
Wilson referred to the ‘white heat of revolution’ based on technology.
Few of us need reminding of the history of what happened next as the UK was overtaken by Germany, Japan and dwarfed by the US in technology advances – or more particularly in the ability to commercialise technology breakthroughs.
Next year’s general election will see all the main parties try to repeat the trick of convincing the electorate that technology will underpin Britain’s economic future and secure its position as a global economic force.
That the economy needs a strong technology indusry is not in dispute. How it develops one is more problematic.
In the digital space we are likely to see Silicon Roundabout, London’s tech hub, forced to play host to politicians of every hue as the parties seek to glue themselves to the creative tech sectors.
It was within a stone’s throw of the roundabout at a google campus last week that we saw the launch of a Technology Manifesto by the Policy Exchange think tank. The report recommended an agenda which explored the digital revolution that must happen across government.
The launch saw the three main party representative MPs being praised for their interest in technology.
Amid some political point scoring each addressed different aspects of the challenges in the context of the report’s topics. The report is wide ranging, attempting to address social, commercial, policy and service delivery issues. Its recommendations are split across individuals, businesses and government.
Nadhim Zawhawi, MP, Conservative MP for Stratford Upon Avon is a member of the Number 10 policy unit. He spoke about how easy it was to bash government IT and asked why funding for UK businesses ‘falls off a cliff’ at the third round stage when they require investment in the £5-£25m range.
The question being will the UK ever build a Google or Facebook without sufficient and timely investment to help successful start ups scale.
Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle and a Labour Shadow cabinet member and front bench digital group review committee member pointed to the growing digital divide and the emergence of a digital elite. Onwurah welcomed efforts to save money and improve government services through digital delivery (GDS) but she said the Government risks excluding the 5m UK homes currently without web access saying Government cannot choose its customers and it is the most vulnerable in society who remain those at greatest need of the IT based services that operate at vast scale and cost so much to implement in health and social protection.
Labour’s review committee for the development of digital creative industries is being led by big hitters Harriet Harmon MP and Chukka Uuma MP, shadow chief secretary to the treasury
Julian Hubbert, Liberal MP for Cambridge, a man with a business background in technology declared that technology was ‘liberal.’ He raised the skills issue saying that the UK needed to understand that to acquire the skills necessary to deliver the required level of economic growth meant giving suitably qualified professionals (and their families) permission to enter and stay in the UK. Hubbert also pointed out that the decisions taken today would impact future generations and that much longer term thinking was required.
As to the report itself, there follows a snap shot of some of the policy recommendations:
Establishment of a single web site or local government
Adoption of electronic proofs – eg driving licence, birth, marriage certificates
Wide adoption of an electronic platform for government purchases
Opening up of Ordnance Survey
Information Marketplaces – where local and central government departments would post their information needs
Electronic Purchasing based on open standards should be the default for government departments
Supporting agencies to converge on shared capabilities. Using open standards this would enable the government to use its size to secure the best value when purchasing
Funding of basic digital skills minimum or all citizens.
Citizen control of data held in public bodies.
Update of data protection legislation to take account of advances such as the internet of things.
Make a universal broadband commitment.
Aim for 50% foreign direct investment in software by 2020 – from 30% today.
The report was co-sponsored by Google and EMC.
Main Image, Left to Right: Zawhawi, Onwurah, Hubbert