Opinion

Gordon Brown: Labour would create more IT jobs and help Britain become a leading digital economy

I want a British future that is more democratic, more green, more inclusive, more high skilled and more prosperous - and that means it needs to be more digital too, writes Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

More than a quarter of our jobs - seven million - are already in information, communications and technology-related roles - a higher proportion than in France, Germany or the US. I believe that if we make the right choices in coming weeks, Britain can continue to be a world leader in the digital economy and we can create 250,000 more skilled jobs in the sector by 2020.

But that will take a government which truly understands the digital future, and believes in the public investment needed to hasten its creation.

Committed to Britain's digital future

The UK has the lowest rate of corporation tax among the G7 economies and Labour is committed to maintaining that advantage to the benefit of all British businesses. But we know that digital businesses need particular forms of support, and Labour has set out its vision in the Digital Economy Bill, which is designed to ensure we have the right infrastructure and intellectual property framework to allow digital creativity to flourish.

The legislation shows the importance we attach to this sector as part of our overall active industrial strategy, and our future funding decisions will reflect that too. I was delighted that Sir Tim Berners Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt have agreed to head a new institution - the Institute of Web Science - to be based here in Britain and started with £30m of government support. That is just one of the ways we intend to harness the benefits of the semantic web and to ensure that Britain takes the lead in understanding and harnessing the potential of technological developments.

Sir Tim has already been working with the government on our Making Public Data Public project, which aims to share all the information the government uses in making its own decisions with the public, so they can fact-check and interrogate our evidence and question our priorities. Combined with Labour's freedom of information legislation, that is a major change in our democratic culture and a huge transfer of power from the government to the people.

That shift will impact on our public services too, as people will no longer expect to be 'done to' but to be doing - actively seeking out information about services to demand more of them and to access them at a time convenient to the person using the service and not the person providing it. Labour's Smarter Government White Paper set out our intentions for online public services - detailing for example how it should be easier to book hospital appointments online, like booking a hotel room, or to receive a text message from your child's school to alert you of closures due to snow or remind you about parents' evening.

Countrywide broadband access

As more and more information and services move online, it is an important Labour priority to ensure nobody is left behind. That is why I appointed Martha Lane Fox as the government's Champion of Digital Inclusion and launched a National Plan for Digital Participation to get 60% of people not currently online accessing the web by 2014. The plan is a real partnership between government, business and the voluntary sector, and Labour has provided £12m in public funding. The Home Access programme is another major access scheme, providing free computers and internet connections to 270,000 families with school children who might otherwise be unable to afford it.

But universal access needs not just funding but infrastructure too. That is why we have said, despite Conservative opposition, we will press on with plans to make next-generation broadband available to every household and business in Britain.

Our plan is to provide universal access to broadband by 2012, with access to superfast broadband by 2017 for 90% of Britain - ultimately reaching the final 10% with satellite and mobile broadband. Because we are determined that every family and business, not just some, should benefit, we will raise revenue to pay for this from a modest levy on fixed telephone lines.

We will continue to work with businesses, the BBC and other broadcasting providers to increase take-up of broadband and to ensure Britain becomes a leading digital economy. Nobody likes to introduce new taxes, but I am not prepared to see British businesses and British families left behind in an ever more competitive global market and I believe that this investment is absolutely crucial to the creation of new industries and future jobs.

So the country faces a choice about which party has the ideas and the experience to secure the recovery and not put it at risk. Britain's economic recovery, and our national renewal, is at stake. Computer Weekly readers know better than most how key our digital industries are to Britain's future; this election will determine what happens to both.


Photo: Rex Features

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This was first published in April 2010

 

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