Manifesto Plans for Digital Britain

I have now read many comparisons of the party manifestos but, as I have said previously, most  commented on what they wanted or did not want to see. The most succinct is that produced by Public Technology Net – but it may be too succinct. Tech UK has looked at the manifestos from the perspective of suppliers of technology and published its own.  Meanwhile Think Broadband examined the Conservative , LibDem  and Labour manifestos from the perspective of  Broadband obsessives. Many of the promises on technology issues appear similar at first sight. What is different is the context and the detail, if any, given as to how they will be achieved. I promised that I would do a canter through the Conservative Manifesto taking topics in the order in which they appear. I have not been able to make time to complete this to my satisfaction. What follows is far too long and I may return to issues, topic by topic – but here goes.

I will leave out Brexit. In my previous blog I explained briefly why we have so much less to fear from “Hard Brexit” and a new relationship based on true partnership, than we have to fear from getting embroiled in the detail of the forty years of fudged compromises on which I (and my father before me), spent so much of our lives. To those who say I was too brief, I would say that I find it painful to admit that I wasted so much of my life examining the entrails of intractable problems (trying to find “acceptable ambiguities” to “harmonise” that on which there was no real agreement) or irrelevant, unworkable and/or counter-productive “solutions” (like the GDPR). I voted remain, but Juncker made clear that “reform” was not an option. The English and Welsh took him at his word.  It is now apparent that the lifeboats are in better shape than the Titanic.

As I go through the Conservative manifesto I will digress to make comparisons with the other manifestos. I will also comment on how wider issues affect the IT and digital communities, users not just suppliers.

The first section of the Conservative Manifesto is about “A strong economy that works for everyone “.. It contains a pledge (Page 14) to the stick to the promise of  cutting Corporation Tax 17% and the promise of  “a full review of the business rates system to make sure it is up to date for a world in which people increasingly shop online.”  These, plus the pledge for a simpler tax system “especially for self-employed people and small businesses“, need to be juxtaposed with those in the section on “New Rules for a Changing economy“, including on “Rights and protections in the ‘gig’ economy“:

In the modern economy many people choose jobs like driving, delivering and coding, that are highly flexible and can be mixed with other employment. This brings considerable advantages to millions of people but we should not ignore the challenges this kind of employment creates. These workers are officially classed as self-employed and therefore have fewer pension entitlements, reduced access to benefits, and no qualification for sick pay and holiday pay. Yet the nature of their work is different from the traditional self employed worker who might be a sole trader, a freelancer or running their own business.

We will make sure that people working in the ‘gig’ economy are properly protected  …  to ensure that the interests of employees on traditional contracts, the self employed and those people working in the ‘gig’ economy are all properly protected.”

This leads into a section on “Stopping tax evasion” with the “tougher regulation of tax advisory firms … further measures to reduce online fraud in Value Added Tax.”

The clear aim, in marked contrast with other parties,  is to to increase tax take by reducing headline taxes and closing loopholes. The biggest of the latter are those used by major players in the on-line world to avoid paying tax other than via Luxembourg or the Crown Dependencies. How much of that which is done over the Internet is really more efficient in any sense other than the ability of those running the business to avoid local tax?

Those whose prime reason for outsourcing is to cut pension liabilities need to be concerned over the section on protecting private pensions: “tighten the rules against … abuse, and increase the punishment for those caught mismanaging pension schemes … new powers to issue punitive fines for those found to have wilfully left a pension scheme under-resourced … disqualify the company directors … a new criminal offence for company directors who deliberately or recklessly put at risk the ability of a pension scheme to meet its obligations.

The following section on “Reforming rules on takeovers and mergers” contains an explicit reference to telecoms, i.e. BT: We welcome overseas investment and want investors to succeed here but not when success is driven by aggressive asset-stripping or tax avoidance. We shall also take action to protect our critical national infrastructure. We will ensure that foreign ownership of companies controlling important infrastructure does not undermine British security or essential services. We have already strengthened ministerial scrutiny and control in respect of civil nuclear power and will take a similarly robust approach across a limited range of other sectors, such as telecoms, defence and energy.

The section on A Modern Industrial Strategy begins with spreading wealth and opportunity across “every community in the United Kingdom, not just the most prosperous places in London and the south east”.  This depends on spreading reliable, resilient gigabit connectivity, not just a Universal Service Obligation, across the entire UK although that comes later in the manifesto. What follows is an emphasis on skills: rebalancing effort from academic to technical, but not at the expense of offending the academic lobby.

Our modern industrial strategy … will help young people to develop the skills they need to do the high-paid, high-skilled jobs of the future … make a modern technical education available to everyone, throughout their lives, to provide the skills they need. We will remove the barriers that hold back small firms with big potential – and let them compete when government itself is the buyer … we will deliver the … broadband – that businesses need.

… we will work to build up the investment funds of our universities across the UK. … larger, aggregated funds to increase significantly the amounts invested in and by universities … universities to enjoy the commercial fruits of their research, through funds that are large enough to list, thereby giving British investors a chance to share in their success … £23 billion National Productivity Investment Fund … include £740 million of digital infrastructure investment …

The skills we need ... the next Conservative government will give Britain the technical education it has lacked for decades … but we must also address the immediate needs of those sectors of the economy suffering shortages in skills. We will … ask the Migration Advisory Committee to make recommendations …. about how the visa system can become better aligned with our modern industrial strategy … to set aside significant numbers of visas for workers in strategically-important sectors, such as digital technology, without adding to net migration as a whole.

However, skilled immigration should not be a way for government or business to avoid their obligations to improve the skills of the British workforce. So we will double the Immigration Skills Charge levied on companies employing migrant workers, to £2,000 a year … using the revenue generated to invest in higher level skills training for workers in the UK.

The revelations emerging after the collapse of British Airways systems after outsourcing to an Indian-multinational, whether the staff and the equipment who failed were in Mumbai or  Heathrow (immigrants with Tier 2 visas in place of the in-house staff who had been made redundant) gives context to this section. I gave numbers and links in my most recent blog .  Arguments based on the very small number (under 300) of those coming in under the “exceptional talent” route must be viewed alongside the 50,000 or so “technicians” imported each year. Those who wish to remain free to import staff with genuinely scarce digital skills have to be seen to help use the revenue generated by the increased levy to reduce their own dependence on imported talent. Meanwhile the Labour party comments about re-introducing Tier 3 visas and relaxing controls on their dependents look like a red rag to a working class bull.

The sections on “freedom of movement” to and from the rest of the EU need to read in the context of wishing to maintain the current reciprocal arrangements for Britons working or retired across the rest of the EU. The resolution will almost certainly entail moving towards processes common across most of the EU. These restrict access to benefits, housing, schooling, health care etc to those with evidence of “entitlement”, whether as a local resident or because they can produce evidence that their employer or their home government will pay. Vince Cable is right in pointing that such a move did not require Brexit – but he should also say why he did not propose this while the LibDems were in coalition. The reasons, which link to the “real” case for ID cards (alias joined up identities for dealing with central and local government) reflect credit on none of the main parties – nor UKIP.

We should remember Michael Howard’s consultation on entitlement cards and original objectives of the Government Verify programme when reading the later section in the Manifesto on the “relaunch” of the Verify programme (page 81) and that on restoring confidence in our democracy by addressing electoral fraud (page 43). “We will legislate to ensure that a form of identification must be presented before voting, to reform postal voting and to improve other aspects of the elections process to ensure that our elections are the most secure in the world. We will retain the traditional method of voting by pencil and paper, and tackle every aspect of electoral fraud.

Backing small businesses

We will ensure that 33 per cent of central government purchasing will come from SMEs by the end of the parliament … ensure that big contractors comply with the Prompt Payment Code both on government contracts and in their work with others. If they do not do so, they will lose the right to bid for government contracts.

This pledge presents a major challenge to the dinosaurs of the IT world, whether outsourcers or systems integrators. It also needs to be read alongside the earlier comments on tax reform and the self employed. Until the rise of inflexible outsourcing and PFI contracts, many departments made extensive use of ad hoc teams of  individually checked and vetted individuals of known competence to supplement the skills of their in-house teams. If the 33% target is to be taken seriously it implies a return to that approach – perhaps using registers of consultants and their skills maintained by professional bodies, trades unions and/or trade associations.

Six years ago, before I retired from EURIM I was seeking support for a programme to look at the reform of public procurement . The evidence then in front of me suggested savings of 25 – 50% (or more) from cutting out the procurement overheads which had caused markets to implode around a small group of consultancies and contractors with whom officials might spend years specifying and negotiating an inevitably doomed mega deal – before they retired to join them as advisors.

Not surprisingly that programme had to be dropped for lack of support.  Turkeys do not not vote for Christmas. Times appear to have, however, changed.

The NHS has just dropped plans to force all public sector contractors inside IR35 The reason given in the article are to do with IT consultants walking out but the need to attract back the many GPs and Consultants who retired last year to avoid pensions caps may also have had something to do with it. Perhaps the time has come to roll back on Tony Blair’s assault on small businesses in every part of the economy, from road transport to health care, with the IT SME world slaughtered en passent.

Prosperous towns and cities across Britain (page 24) and Shared Institutions of the Union (page 34)

move many of the functions of central government out to cities around Britain where possible and to see our vast cultural assets reach people around our country too … combined authorities, mayoralties and local enterprise partnerships … responsible for co-ordinating their own local industrial strategy … bringing together local businesses, political and public sector leaders to drive growth and economic regeneration … Starting with the UK Government’s arm’s-length bodies, we will start moving significant numbers of UK Government civil servants and other public servants out of London and the south-east to cities around the UK. We will ensure that senior posts move too, so that operational headquarters as well as administrative functions are centred not in London but around Britain. And we will do so in a way that encourages the development of new clusters of public services, private businesses and, where appropriate, universities.

This will require investment in high capacity the broadband infrastructures to support the decentralised civil service functions, driven by local partnerships organising their own programmes. Hence the critical importance of attracting investors to fund the necessary construction – using utility business models underpinned via leasing contracts and regulatory certainty.

back new scientific and technical institutions … universities make their full contribution to their local community and economy, sponsoring local schools and being creative about how they can open up opportunities for local people

Some Universities, usually former Polytechnics, welcome the idea of becoming a local enterprise hub. Others, including most members of the Russell Group, think it detracts from their status as global research hubs. A few see no conflict. One example of the latter is Plymouth, home to most of the world’s expertise in Oceanography and much of the UK’s in both Marine Engineering and in measuring the effectiveness  of Medical treatments. We need more of those who cheerfully combine both approaches (as interestingly do some of the oldest, but not newest, Cambridge Colleges).

Our Countryside Communities

Around the world a growing number of high tech businesses are based in rural areas with world class communications. The Conservative and LibDems are competing for the rural vote. Banks and Government agencies have been seeking for over a decade to herd us on-line to be fleeced . But many, from most of those aged over 65 to those living in inner city “not spots” or rural areas served by crapband are now among the “digitally excluded”.

The Conservative pledge to “enhance the provision of public services in rural areas” is therefore likely to be electorally popular, as is the means: “We will safeguard the post office network, to protect existing rural services and work with the Post Office to extend the availability of business and banking services to families and small businesses in rural areas. A third of all SMEs in rural areas use their post office weekly and our ambition is that all routine small business and consumer banking services should be available in rural post offices. We will support pharmacies and village schools in rural areas.”

But we also need to revitalise and reintegrate the Post Office/Royal Mail  network in urban areas, where a visit to a sub-Post Office to do business with some-one you recognise and who recognises you, or from a regular postman, who you know and who recognises you, is one of best ways of reducing the rising tide of linked on-line crime, courier fraud and impersonation. Hence my recent blogs on the saga of West Norwood sorting office

Leaving the European Union

We want to agree a deep and special partnership with the European Union. This partnership will benefit both the European Union and the United Kingdom: while we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving Europe, and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent.

no deal is better than a bad deal for the UK … control of our own laws … control immigration and secure the entitlements of EU nationals in Britain and British nationals in the EU … maintain the Common Travel Area and maintain as frictionless a border as possible for people, goods and services between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Workers’ rights conferred on British citizens from our membership of the EU will remain. We will pursue free trade with European markets, and secure new trade agreements with other countries. We want to work together in the fight against crime and terrorism, collaborate in science and innovation – and secure a smooth, orderly Brexit. And we will protect the democratic freedom of the people of Gibraltar and our overseas territories to remain British, for as long as that is their wish.

As we leave the European Union, we will no longer be members of the single market or customs union but we will seek a deep and special partnership including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement. There may be specific European programmes in which we might want to participate and if so, it will be reasonable that we make a contribution. We will determine a fair settlement of the UK’s rights and obligations as a departing member state, in accordance with the law and in the spirit of the UK’s continuing partnership with the EU …

We want fair, orderly negotiations, minimising disruption and giving as much certainty as possible – so both sides benefit. We believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside our withdrawal, reaching agreement on both within the two years allowed by Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.

a Great Repeal Bill .. will …  convert EU law into UK law, allowing businesses and individuals to go about life knowing that the rules have not changed overnight. This approach means that the rights of workers and protections given to consumers and the environment by EU law will continue to be available in UK law at the point at which we leave the EU. The bill will also create the necessary powers to correct the laws that do not operate appropriately once we have left the EU, so our legal system can continue to function correctly outside the EU. Once EU law has been converted into domestic law, parliament will be able to pass legislation to amend, repeal or improve any piece of EU law it chooses, as will the devolved legislatures, where they have the power to do so.

… additional bills to ensure that when we have left the EU there is a clear statutory basis for United Kingdom authorities to exercise powers that are currently exercised through EU law and institutions.

… We will not repeal or replace the Human Rights Act while the process of Brexit is underway but we will consider our human rights legal framework when the process of leaving the EU concludes. We will remain signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights for the duration of the next parliament.

As I said in my blog on why WTO “rules” are better than a bad deal, my own view is that the reason markets were not panicking, at least not until they began to fear a hung parliament, was that they could see an orderly process toward a new and more productive relationship with a reformed EU. There is an expectation that the Commission will move away from its current “non-negotiation” position before it is sidelined as time runs out and we are into WTO dispute processes under International, not EU, law.

The United Kingdom is a global nation.

If that view is correct, those running international businesses are far more interested in what we aim to do after Brexit with our new freedom of action, than the details of Brexit itself.

Do we really intend to exercise the leadership stated on page 38, including as a “global champion of free trade” while also leading “a global effort to close down online spaces for those who abuse children, incite violence or propagate hate speech … ” , taking up “leadership in a new arena, where concern is shared around the world… the regulation of the use of personal data and the internet “… strengthening  “Britain’s response to white collar crime by incorporating the Serious Fraud Office into the National Crime Agency, improving intelligence sharing and bolstering the investigation of serious fraud, money laundering and financial crime … and the response to cyber threats on private businesses, public services, critical national infrastructure, and individuals, working with the National Cyber Security Centre to prevent attacks wherever possible and with the police and international law enforcement agencies to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice.

If so, the paradox is that Brexit will lead to an increase, not a decrease, in practical pan-European co-operation, but in the context of helping make a reality of global co-operation.

World Class Technical Education

Labour has promised to scrap tuition fees for those going to University, thus leaving graduates with “only” the debt from their living expenses. By contrast the ambitious Conservative plans to reform technical education at every level can be seen as giving students the option of “graduating with a career not a debt” (my words).

“For too long in this country, technical excellence has not been valued as highly as academic success. We want British technical education to be as prestigious as our world leading higher education system, and for technical education in this country to rival the best technical systems in the world.

This will require bold reform of the funding, institutional and qualifications frameworks for technical education, in partnership with British industry. We have already introduced high quality apprenticeships that can reach to degree level and beyond for the 200,000 young people who choose to enter full-time vocational study after their GCSEs each year. We now need to go further to improve technical education and offer young people a real choice between technical and academic routes at sixteen.

… replacing 13,000 existing technical qualifications with new qualifications, known as T-levels, across fifteen routes in subjects including construction, creative and design, digital, engineering and manufacturing, and health and science. We will increase the number of teaching hours by fifty per cent to an average of 900 hours per year and make sure that each student does a three-month work placement as part of their course. And we will extend our reforms to the highest levels of technical qualification.

… invest in further education colleges to make sure they have world-class equipment and facilities and will create a new national programme to attract experienced industry professionals to work in FE colleges.

… new institutes of technology, backed by leading employers and linked to leading universities, in every major city in England. They will provide courses at degree level and above, specialising in technical disciplines, such as STEM, whilst also providing higher-level apprenticeships and bespoke courses for employers. They will enjoy the freedoms that make our universities great, including eligibility for public funding for productivity and skills research, and access to loans and grants for their students. They will be able to gain royal charter status and regius professorships in technical education … anchor institutions for local, regional and national industry, providing sought-after skills to support the economy, and developing their own local identity to make sure they can meet the skills needs of local employers.

… a major review of funding across tertiary education as a whole, looking at how we can ensure that students get access to financial support that offers value for money, is available across different routes and encourages the development of the skills we need as a country.

We will put employers at the centre of these reforms. We will deal with local skills shortages and ensure that colleges deliver the skills required by local businesses through Skills Advisory Panels and Local Enterprise Partnerships working at a regional and local level. We will deliver our commitment to create 3 million apprenticeships for young people by 2020 and in doing so we will drive up the quality of apprenticeships to ensure they deliver the skills employers need. We will allow large firms to pass levy funds to small firms in their supply chain, and work with the business community to develop a new programme to allow larger firms to place apprentices in their supply chains. We will explore teaching apprenticeships sponsored by major companies, especially in STEM subjects.

Lastly, we will make the system easier for young people taking technical and vocational routes. We will introduce a UCAS-style portal for technical education. We will introduce significantly discounted bus and train travel for apprentices to ensure that no young person is deterred from an apprenticeship due to travel costs.”

One of the issues for IT and Digital Employers is how they are going to work with and through bodies like the new Institute for Apprenticeships . This is more important than trying to find short term wriggle room on Tier 2 or other Visas, or agonising over the meaning of freedom of movement. It should not, however, be either/or but both. We need to link the definition of skills in shortage (to justify visas) to the definition of those for which training should be expanded. Thus, if there really is a shortage of curry chefs or network engineers, those seeking visas should also be helping organise training programmes and apprenticeships to produce those with at least the level of skill of those they are seeking to import.

Career learning

The Conservative objectives also extend to those already in work

We will in the next parliament produce the best programme of learning and training for people in work and returning to work in the developed world.

We will help all workers seeking to develop their skills in their existing jobs by introducing a new right to request leave for training for all employees. Alongside this, we will help workers to stay in secure jobs as the economy changes by introducing a national retraining scheme. Under the scheme, the costs of training will be met by the government, with companies able to gain access to the Apprenticeship Levy to support wage costs during the training period.

We will break down the barriers to public sector workers taking on more qualified roles because of their prior educational attainment. For instance, we will ensure that teaching assistants can become qualified teachers and healthcare assistants can become nurses via a degree apprenticeship route, in addition to other routes.

We will equip people with the digital skills they need now, and in the future, by introducing a right to lifelong learning in digital skills, just as we have done for literacy and numeracy.

For businesses employing former wards of the care system, someone with a disability, those with chronic mental health problems, those who have committed a crime but who have repaid their debt to society, and those who have been unemployed for over a year, we will offer a holiday on their employers’ National Insurance Contributions for a full year … targeted support for young people between the ages of 18 and 24 so that everyone, no matter what their start in life, is given the very best chance of getting into work.

support companies to take on parents and carers returning to work after long periods of absence and back similar schemes in the public sector, including the country’s biggest employer, our NHS.”

I am particularly pleased to see the reference to returner programmes, linked to reference to the gender pay gap (on page 56), because this is one of our biggest pools of untapped labour and one where the IT industry is at its most remiss – despite the clear potential shown by successful programmes in the past.

The sections on “Cutting the Cost of Living“, “A Restored Contract between the Generations” and “Our National health Service” also contain pledges relevant to the world of IT and Telecoms:

We will make billing for telecoms customers fairer and easier to understand, including making clear when a customer has paid off the price of their handset  …. strengthen the hand of online consumers. We will act to make terms and conditions clearer, and end the abusive use of subscription services, including by making it clearer when free trials come to an end. Promote technological solutions to prolong independent living …

increase the Immigration health Surcharge to #600 for migrant workers and #450 for international students to cover their use of the NHS  (competitive to the costs of health insurance paid by UK nationals working or studying overseas) …

support GPs to deliver innovative services that better meet patients’ need, including phone and on-line consultations and the use of technology to triage people so they see the right clinician more quickly … give  patients, via digital means or over the phone , the ability to book appointments, contacts the 111 service, order repeat prescriptions, and access and update aspects of their care record, as well as control how their personal data is used. We will continue to expand the number of NHS approved apps that can help monitor health care… live publication of waiting times

Section 5 of the Manifesto is headed “Prosperity and Security in a Digital Age and begins with reference to A digital charter that balances freedom with protection for users, and offers opportunities alongside obligations for businesses and platforms … two fundamental aims …

  • make Britain the best place to start and run a digital business …
  • make Britain the safest place in the world to be online

Including with “access to the best talent from overseas to compete with anywhere in the world” and the UK funds repatriated from the European Investment Fund put into British Business Bank to provide:  a sustainable business model for high-quality media online, to create a level playing field for our media and creative industries … skills and digital infrastructure that creative companies need … favourable tax arrangements … creative industries tax credits scheme … robust system for protection of intellectual property … with strong protections against infringement.

… make doing business online easier for companies and consumers .. the right to insist on a digital signature … digital cancellation of contracts …  digital companies to provide digital receipts, clearer terms and conditions when selling goods and services online and support new digital proofs of identification … same protections in online markets as they have on the high street … broadband switching easier and pricing more transparent.

… ensure that consumers and businesses have access to the digital infrastructure they need to succeed … Universal Service Obligation … gigaspeed connectivity …full fibre connection voucher for companies ..  major fibre spines in over a hundred towns and cities … ten million premises connected to full fibre and a clear path to national coverage over the next decade.

By 2022 we will extend mobile coverage further to 95 per cent geographic coverage of the UK. By the same date, all major roads and main line trains will enjoy full and uninterrupted mobile phone signal, alongside guaranteed WiFi internet service … roll out of a new 5G network providing gigaspeed … majority of the population covered by a 5G signal by 2027.”

The headline difference between the Conservatives and the other parties appears to be over the gigabit and 5G ambition, the pace of change and the reference to fibre spines to link the hundred or so would-be “smart cities”. Meanwhile the LibDems refer to investing #2bn in local community broadband and Labour says that “on one day one we will instruct the National Infrastructure Commission to report on how to roll out Ultrafast (300 mbs) across the UK within the next decade”. On March 23rd I spent a day at an NIC consultation event at which we were given to understand they were planning to have such a report ready before the summer break. That was before the election was called. Meanwhile Sadiq Khan may be about to launch a exercise to look at installing 4G across the London underground  London is now the only big City without full mobile connectivity above and below ground.

The big question is which party will be more effective at attracting new investment into new players. Analysts do not believe BT can afford the investment needed to hold onto its current market share. Hence the main reason its share price is down 30% over the past year. Meanwhile its competitors appear to have found ways of building new, more reliable, networks  for less than the cost BT claims for upgrading existing ones. Will they be given the incentives to do so? Will the Conservative  plans to overhaul our sclerotic planning processes so as to pull forward investment in new homes also help cut the cost/delay of building and installing new communications infrastuctures?

The devil will be in the detail – one of the reasons this blog is delayed is the time it has taken to write up a couple of events on that detail – e.g. how getting council highway departments (and their outsourcing operators)  to work with (instead of against) those building new networks could more than halve both the cost and time necessary. In this context I commend the excellent report published by BSG on 23rd May.  It was released during purdah so has had limited publicity.

The safest place to be online

The LibDems appear more concerned over freedom of speach, with players like Google and Facebook trusted to set their own rules, while GCHQ and law enforcement are not. Meanwhile as Tech UK pointed out, the Labour Manifesto is technology lite.

The Conservatives believe “we must take steps to protect the vulnerable and give people confidence to use the internet without fear of abuse, criminality or exposure to horrific content… online rules should reflect those … offline … as unacceptable to bully online… as difficult to groom … as hard for children to access violent and degrading pornography … and as difficult to commit a crime …

Where technology can find a solution, we will pursue it. We will work with industry to introduce new protections for minors, from images of pornography, violence, and other age-inappropriate content not just on social media but in app stores and content sites as well. We will put a responsibility on industry not to direct users – even unintentionally – to hate speech, pornography, or other sources of harm. We will make clear the responsibility of platforms to enable the reporting of inappropriate, bullying, harmful or illegal content, with take-down on a comply-or-explain basis.

We will continue to push the internet companies to deliver on their commitments to develop technical tools to identify and remove terrorist propaganda, to help smaller companies build their capabilities and to provide support for civil society organisations to promote alternative and counter-narratives. In addition, we do not believe that there should be a safe space for terrorists to be able to communicate online and will work to prevent them from having this capability.

We will educate today’s young people in the harms of the internet and how best to combat them, introducing comprehensive Relationships and Sex Education in all primary and secondary schools to ensure that children learn about the risks of the internet, including cyberbullying and online grooming.

… We will give people new rights to ensure they are in control of their own data, including the ability to require major social media platforms to delete information held about them at the age of 18, the ability to access and export personal data, and an expectation that personal data held should be stored in a secure way.

… an expert Data Use and Ethics Commission to advise regulators and parliament on the nature of data use and how best to prevent its abuse. The Commission will help us to develop the principles and rules that will give people confidence that their data is being handled properly. Alongside this commission, we will bring forward a new data protection law, fit for our new data age, to ensure the very best standards for the safe, flexible and dynamic use of data and enshrining our global leadership in the ethical and proportionate regulation of data. We will put the National Data Guardian for Health and Social Care on a statutory footing to ensure data security standards are properly enforced.

We will continue with our £1.9 billion investment in cyber security and build on the successful establishment of the National Cyber Security Centre through our worldleading cyber security strategy. We will make sure that our public services, businesses, charities and individual users are protected from cyber risks. We will further strengthen cyber security standards for government and public services, requiring all public services to follow the most up to date cyber security techniques appropriate.

In general the Conservatives appear to be consistent in wanting the same law to apply on-line and off-line: At a time when the internet is changing the way people obtain their news, we also need to take steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information that is essential to our democracy and a free and independent press. We will ensure content creators are appropriately rewarded for the content they make available online. We will be consistent in our approach to regulation of online and offline media

I look forward to discovering what this means in practice. Some years ago I enjoyed a small round table on the plans of the old Press Complaints Commission to try to cover on-line media. Guido Fawkes (Paul Staines) and myself were the only practicing bloggers present. Computer Weekly was then part of Reed Elsevier and I had to abide by our intrepretation of PCC rules. Guido/Paul  did not. I still agree the principle. I remain as sceptical as Guido/Paul over the practicality of setting up suitable processes although I abide by the the same “rules” as I did then (checking the provenance of my sources but only attributing them if they are content).

The section on Digital Government and Public Services contains some great aspirations:

a new presumption of digital government services by default and an expectation that all government services are fully accessible online, with assisted digital support available for all public sector websites … every person can find out up to date information about roadworks, planning applications and bus routes online … ’schools maps’ … operational performance data of all public-facing services for open comparison … central and local government … required to release information regularly and in an open format, and data will be aggregated and anonymised where it is important to do so … digital transformation fellowships, so that hundreds of leaders …  open data … .

But …  “assisted digital” really has to be available for all. Those developing the user interfaces need to develop them for ease of access over the equipment used by the blind, deaf and those with limited dexterity and their trusted carers . They should not be allowed to regard such facilities as add-ons. They are not add-ons for those most dependent on public services. They should be at the heart of the specification. A consequence of following such design disciplines is systems that are faster and easier to use over mainstream equipment.

.. common platforms across government and the wider public sector … one single, common and safe way of verifying themselves to all parts of government …  using their own secure data that is not held by government. We will also make this platform [Verify] more widely available, so that people can safely … access non-government services such as banking … rationalise the use of personal data within government, reducing data duplication across all systems … ’Once-Only’ principle in central government services by 2022 and wider public services by 2025.

The concepts behind the Verify programme are admirable but for systems to be capable of use by trusted carers (or other intermediaries) requires that those running the Verify programme start to listen to their advisory committees and stop trying to plough ahead with solutions that only fit that 80% of the population who are reasonably fit and well and lead reasonably orderly and simple lives. Early in my career I learned that the “once only” principle is a dangerous illusion. It makes for simpler systems but even before the rise of hacking and deliberate fraud there were often good reasons for duplication and variation (e.g. different part numbers for components that were supposedly interchangeable but came off different production lines and failed in different ways). There are similar situations with regard to, for example, human identities and medical diagnoses. Most of the common excuses for duplication are, however, not good. We do indeed need to rationalise the use of personal data and reduce duplication while introducing robust but humane processes for helping those who may, or may not, have been impersonated. But we also need to recognise the limits.

We also want to use digital innovation to help tackle the great challenge of an ageing population, in conjunction with our social care reforms set out in chapter four. We will support new providers seeking to use digital technology to monitor long-term conditions better, deploy carers to patients or support better domiciliary care away from hospitals.

This is, perhaps, one of the most important sections in the manifesto. The first event organised by PITCOM, back in 1981, was on Computer Based Aids for the disabled. It was opened by a young Sir George Young as Minister. The technology was already up to the job. It could cut costs significantly. The problem was moving funding between pots. It still is. Today the technologies to aid remote consultation and diagnosis and give more control over their environment to the physically frail, as well as to monitor their condition and better enable their carers to look after them, are a fraction of the cost.  They should enable us to be able to afford to care for an aging population (me!!!!) without having to rely on armies of immigrants. The big need is for tech entrepreneurs to appreciate that the elderly control far more of the UK’s disposable wealth than the young and are willing to pay for that which is fit for purpose. As the wealthy buy assisted technology the costs of installation and maintenance (not just production) begin to come down,  until the not so wealthy can afford it. Ultimately, it will become commonplace – and may even be adopted by the NHS. This was one of the future growth markets  identified in “No End of Jobs” (Bow Group 1984) as being capable of more than filling any gaps in the employment market created by automation.

Digital infrastructure

Then come the other uses of technology to: transform the management of our national infrastructure … autonomous vehicles …  improve our railways … efficient use of our electricity infrastructure and electric vehicles …  manage our airspace … support for businesses developing these new technologies, creating a better environment for them to be tested in the UK.

Digital Land

Central to upgrading the UK telecommunications and energy infrastructures at affordable cost is the three dimensional mapping of the UK, above and below ground, to enable sharing and avoid the “accidental excavation” that accounts for around 20% of all major network outages. It also helps transform land management at all levels from flood prevention and farming to identifying unused or under-used inner city properties to help meet the targets for new homes. The proposal is to: combine the relevant parts of HM Land Registry, Ordnance Survey, the Valuation Office Agency, the Hydrographic Office and Geological Survey to create a comprehensive geospatial data body within government, the largest repository of open land data in the world. This new body will set the standards to digitise the planning process and help create the most comprehensive digital map of Britain to date.

It could also put the UK in the frame as the global test bed for  secure inter-operability standards in a 5G world – the obvious way forward from the interim report of the Future Communications Challenge Group.

Finally we have a Framework for Data and the Digital Economy 

a regulatory framework in law to underpin our digital charter and to ensure that digital companies, social media platforms and content providers abide by these principles … a sanctions regime to ensure compliance, giving regulators the ability to fine or prosecute those companies that fail in their legal duties, and to order the removal of content where it clearly breaches UK law … an industry-wide levy from social media companies and communication service providers to support awareness and preventative activity to counter internet harms, just as is already the case with the gambling industry.

Just as we led the world in regulating embryology … if we create the right system of governance for the digital economy and use of data, we will attract the right businesses who want to become the global centre for data use and research.

and An international settlement

open discussions with the leading tech companies and other like-minded democracies about the global rules of the digital economy, to develop an international legal framework that we have for so long benefited from in other areas like banking and trade.

There is little doubt that, if we get it right, the UK could become the most trusted place to base a global information business, as it is currently for a global money (aka financial services) business. But that means recognising that trust is earned, not claimed. Britain became globally trusted after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which demonstrated that the King/Executive had come under the rule of law. 

Whether we are still trusted in the same way, afrer teh recent Home Office reinvention of the Crown Prerogative is for others, not us, to judge. But London is unique in that you can do business in whatever language, under whatever law and jurisdiction you wish. Our membership of the European Union was beginning to jeopardise that status, whatever other benefits it brought. We must ensure that our post-Brexit policies exploits, not jeopardise, that advantage.

I will not try to some up. Tomorrow I may start to try and unpick some of the themes.

 

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