Labour activists call for £10bn plan to make UK a leading digital economy

Digital activists in the Labour party want it to commit to a £10bn, five-year plan to make the UK the world’s leading digital economy

A group of Labour digital activists, backed by shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, want the Labour party to commit to a £10bn, five-year plan to make the UK the world’s leading digital economy and society by 2020.

The Labour Digital group, which describes itself as “a grassroots network of over 300 digital professionals” has launched a report at the party’s annual conference in Manchester that it hopes will provide input to future Labour policy.

The study contains 82 suggestions for new policies to form part of a national programme for the UK. This would be led by a proposed Digital Board bringing together ministers and digital experts that would report to the Prime Minister.

“The scale of national transformation driven by digital in the near future can hardly be overstated,” said the report, titled Number One in Digital.

“Sadly, government has been the sector least changed by digital and tends to use it only to increase efficiency rather than to achieve the previously unimaginable. That needs to chang. Government cannot simply outsource its leadership role to a ‘Big Society’ of technical entrepreneurs. Neither can it ignore legitimate public concerns about some uses of technology. Britain needs a plan.”

The Labour Digital proposals include:

  • Nationwide access to 1Gbps broadband in homes, businesses and public buildings, with broadband treated as a national utility.
  • A programme to equip the adult population of the UK with basic online skills by 2020.
  • Assessing the viability of providing free basic internet access to all citizens.
  • Mandate BT to provide broadband to homes without requiring a telephone line for voice calls.
  • Creation of a Digital Ombudsman to ensure digital utilities and essential services, including those provided by large internet companies, are run in the public interest.
  • Reform visa regulations to provide a one-year “Programmers’ Passport” for digitally skilled migrants from outside the EU to find jobs in the UK.
  • A commitment to the adoption of a “government as a platform” model based on open standards.
  • Digital impact assessments on all parliamentary bills.
  • Expand the Government Digital Service (GDS) to set up a Local GDS and help digitise council services.
  • A “Digital Magna Carta” to protect individual’s rights online.
  • Reform data protection rules to offer a standardised set of privacy agreements across major online services, and regulations that focus on the use rather than collection of data.
  • Electronic voting in elections, and the ability for citizens to directly vote online on legislation as part of a reformed House of Lords.

In a foreword to the report, Labour’s policy review co-ordinator, Jon Cruddas MP, said Labour wants to be the party for the UK’s digital future.

“I believe our priority is to make the UK the number one country in the digital revolution. Government will be about giving people more control over their lives. We will use the internet to distribute control and to push power out to the people who know best how to use it,” he said.

Labour Digital is not an official party body, but through its affiliation and the backing of senior party figures it hopes to influence Labour’s digital manifesto for next year’s general election. It has taken several of its proposals from other digital reports produced by organisations such as the Policy Exchange think-tank, the Tinder Foundation and Labour’s Digital Skills Taskforce. Input for the report was also crowdsourced online.

The Labour party is also running a digital government review, led by Shadow Cabinet Office minister Chi Onwurah as part of its formal pre-election policy review process.

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