IT strategy

2015 general election manifestos need IT in their DNA

Karl Flinders

All the major political parties must put IT at the core of their manifestos, with policies to support IT for individuals, businesses and the government, says an influential think-tank.

In its Technology Manifesto, the Policy Exchange calls on all politicians and policymakers in all parties to “put technology front and centre of their thinking for the 2015 general election”.

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The Policy Exchange's manifesto says all parties have a combined interest in working to achieve three goals: to build the world’s most connected and digitally skilled society; to make Britain the most attractive place outside Silicon Valley for technology entrepreneurs; and to make our government the smartest in the world.

“The challenge for policymakers is to keep up,” the document says.

“Harnessed well, technology promises to deliver benefits and opportunities that were the dreams of science fiction just a decade ago. Mishandled or ignored, it risks unleashing new and damaging threats on a scale we have barely begun to grasp.

“Britain is well positioned to be a world leader in using technology for positive ends, but success will require the proactive attention of – and continuity of support from – successive governments. Citizens, non-profits and the private sector will have important roles to play, too.”

The Policy Exchange adds: “Our hope in writing this technology manifesto is not that each political party will create its own version. That is no more needed than an electricity manifesto or a roads manifesto. Rather, our key message is that technology is no longer peripheral to life, and nor can it be to policymaking.”

The manifesto outlines how technology is changing the lives of consumers, the economy and how the public sector operates.

To this end, the Policy Exchange makes 33 recommendations for policies to support individuals, businesses and government.

For individuals, it outlined the importance of digital skills and digital communities and made nine recommendations:

  • Government should set a target for the UK population to have the world’s highest rate of basic digital skills by 2020.
  • Until the whole population is online, public services delivered by post, telephone or face-to-face should – where appropriate – be replaced with quality, assisted-digital services for the 17% of UK citizens who are currently offline.
  • Government should make a universal broadband service commitment, guaranteeing minimum speeds that rise relative to developments in technology and internet usage.
  • Government should ensure that the Electronic Communications Code (ECC) is updated according to reforms proposed by The Law Commission in 2013.
  • Government should commit to an education-first approach to internet safety.
  • Government should make a clear commitment that it will only seek to block websites that are illegal.
  • Data protection legislation should be updated to take account of the internet of things (IoT) and focus on regulating the use rather than the collection of data.
  • A competitive grant pot of £3 million a year should be established to provide funding to third parties that help teachers gain skills to deliver the new computing curriculum.
  • Public services that involve personal data should be designed on the presumption that the citizen is in control of their data.

For business, it said policy should support the aim of making the UK the most attractive place outside Silicon Valley for IT entrepreneurs to invest in and made 11 recommendations:

  • The two-year post-study work visa for students receiving good degrees in STEM subjects should be reinstated.
  • The cap of 10 endorsements per academic institution should be removed from the tier 1 graduate entrepreneur visa.
  • The salary threshold should be removed from the tier 2 visa requirements for skilled migrants securing employment in the digital economy.
  • Government should aim to sign up 50% of the top 100 graduate employers to an accredited scheme that enables some of the best graduates to work for, or co-found, a start-up.
  • To aid start-ups’ agility, government should develop an opt-in, light-touch regime enabling employers in the digital sector to execute rapid no-fault dismissal of highly skilled staff in exchange for forgoing non-compete clauses and claims over intellectual property developed by employees outside their core work responsibilities.
  • Government should set a target for the UK to attract 50% of all software foreign direct investment in Europe by 2020.
  • Government should conduct annual reviews to ensure that legislation and the regulatory and legal system surrounding intellectual property keep pace with technological change.
  • Government should publish a technology impact assessment, forecasting how new technologies are expected to affect each sector of the UK economy by 2025.
  • Government should provide a detailed roadmap on how it will maximise the impact of initiatives to help 1.6 million SMEs transact and sell more online.
  • Government should target achieving a $2 billion online export surplus by 2020 by taking a leading role in negotiations over the future shape of the European Digital Single Market.
  • Government should increase the proportion of funds from the National Cyber Security Programme (NCSP) that is targeted towards the investigation and prosecution of cases of online crime.

The manifesto made 13 recommendations to improve public services through technology and data-sharing across the public sector:

  • By the end of the 2015 parliament, the 150 highest-volume government transactions should be converted to the digital-by-default standard.
  • Government should commit to the wholesale adoption of a government as a platform (GAAP) model, based on open standards.
  • A local GDS hub should be set up within Socitm, supported by the LGA, SOLACE and DCLG.
  • The civil service competency framework should be updated to ensure every individual working in government has a baseline level of ability in critical thinking, quantitative analysis and digital skills.
  • Government should establish and encourage the wide adoption of electronic proofs.
  • Electronic purchasing, based on open standards, should be the default for government departments.
  • Departments should expose application programming interfaces (APIs) for all government services.
  • By the end of the 2015 parliament, paper-based processes should be eliminated for routine interactions within and between government departments.
  • An advanced analytics team should be established in the Cabinet Office, with responsibility for identifying big data opportunities and helping departments to realise them.
  • Government should set up an independent committee of data ethics, responsible for writing a code for responsible analytics and guiding government in novel uses of data.
  • Public sector bodies should be required to audit and declare on data.gov.uk (or a similar data portal) the non-personal datasets they hold, and publish a schedule for their future release.
  • Ordnance Survey should cease to be a trading fund and be removed from the Shareholder Executive to make its maps and data free to use.
  • An information marketplace should be established to enable businesses and citizens to provide data to government.

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