UK political parties expand digital campaigns

The three main political parties expand their digital campaign messages following the launch of TechUK's digital manifesto

The three main UK political parties have expanded their digital campaign messages following the launch of TechUK's digital manifesto.

Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats spoke at the launch of TechUK’s digital manifesto, which details how the next government must turn the UK into a digital leader over the next five years. The parties welcomed TechUK's manifesto and elaborated on their own digital policies.

Conservatives

Conservative MP and minister of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Ed Vaizey, agreed with the points in the TechUK manifesto. He said the Conservatives will focus on the UK skills shortage and encourage growth in startups.

He cited the roll-out of superfast broadband across the UK as an example of a successful government initiative and said it is on course to deliver its target of coverage to 95% of the UK by 2017. He also heralded the coalition’s Government Digital Service (GDS) as a success, and said he hoped Labour would continue its work, were the party to win the 2015 election.

“I think GDS is one of the greatest achievements of this government,” he said. “It has fundamentally changed the way government has done business with citizens.”

He also praised GDS’s achievement at encouraging SMEs into government by reducing the oligopoly of large suppliers. He also said he hoped the trend for smaller suppliers and more innovation in government would continue.

Labour

Labour MP and shadow minister for business, innovation and skills, Iain Wright, said: “It interests me how clear, direct and achievable the recommendations are in the manifesto. There are huge opportunities, not in a distant horizon or a long distance in the future, but now. The prize is immediate if we can grasp it now."

Wright said the UK's appetite for e-commerce proved how comfortable the country is with using technology. “But, equally, people in my constituency have never turned on a computer and, if public services are going to be digital by default, how do we make sure no one is left behind?”

The Coalition is going to spectacularly miss its goal of spending 25% through SMEs by 2015

Iain Wright, Labour

Labour has been stressing this message for some time now. Wright also referred to his colleague Chi Onwurah, shadow cabinet minister who is leading a review into engagement with digital public services.

Wright also touched on the topic of government IT procurement and said that in principle government buying from smaller companies is a good idea, but pointed out that the Coalition is going to “spectacularly” miss its goal of spending 25% through SMEs by 2015.

Wright also said the UK is not progressing as much as it could be with EU policy. The TechUK manifesto said that open and easily-accessible European markets are fundamental to the growth of the UK technology sector and Wright agreed, saying that squabbles over EU policy were not beneficial to shaping what is needed to benefit the country.

Referring to the Scottish Referendum, Wright said: “There’s a lot of talk now of our role in the world at the moment, and together we’re better and tougher.”

Lib Dems

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats representative, Lord Timothy Clement-Jones, highlighted how the TechUK document is in-line with the party’s own pre-election manifesto and that the two were “singing from the same hymn sheet.”

He said that, to encourage technology startups to grow within the UK, the government needs to take action on providing better access to later-stage finance. He said the early stage equity finance has a “clean bill of health”, but the UK is still far behind Silicon Valley at encouraging startups to grow on home soil.

We will introduce devolution on demand to give cities great powers to ramp up their technology innovations

Lord Timothy Clement-Jones, Liberal Democrats

He pointed to the increasing popularity of crowdfunding and said the Liberal Democrats would like to increase competition in the banking sector to encourage more funding models in the marketplace.

Clement-Jones also commented on TechUK’s wish to implement a ‘smart migration’ policy so high-growth companies can access the world’s best talent. He said the Liberal Democrats would like to reverse some of the immigration policies and become more open to students and graduates from abroad – including Australia.

Clement-Jones said London is not the only place in the UK for technology innovation and that technology clusters go well beyond Tech City, citing Newcastle’s Silicon Shore and Brighton’s Silicon Beach as examples.

He said the Liberal Democrats will introduce devolution on demand to give cities great powers to ramp up their technology innovations. “But we need much better transport and connectivity if we’re going to build a northern ecnonmic corridor,” he added.

Industry reactions

Russ Shaw, founder of the Tech London Advocates (TLA) – which has been campaigning for issues such as immigration and digital skills –  said the manifesto was yet another example of the growing importance of technology to the UK economy and society.

"The support of the government has been integral to the growth of technology in the UK, but a dedicated Digital Minister would send a powerful message to the global digital community about Britain's tech ambition," said Shaw.

It’s not enough for digital to be one department of our government and a nice-to-have for businesses

Adam Thilthorpe

Adam Thilthorpe, director of professionalism at the BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, said there was a growing realisation of the importance of technology among political parties for the success of the UK succeed and compete on the international stage.

“We’re seeing a blurring of the lines between policy delivery and policy making and technology is the driver for this,” he said.

Duncan Higgins, marketing director for Virgin Media Business, said the TechUK reports shows the UK has a major competitive advantage in digital but it can’t afford to stand still.

“It’s not enough for digital to be one department of our government and a nice-to-have for businesses. Digital needs to be embedded in every aspect of our economy,” he said.

“Bold and forward-thinking policymaking is vital – as is putting digital experts in decision-making roles. But this kind of transformation won’t happen purely through top-down intervention,” he said. “Every business in the country has a role to play by working out how digital can boost their business, and what they individually need to do to unlock that potential."

Meanwhile Dr Adrian Davis, European MD of (ISC)2, a body of 100,000 infosecurity professionals said that cybersecurity is key to building a secure digital future.

“UK has a wealth of talent in cybersecurity and this should be broadened and deepened, as part of the TechUK vision. The UK has the potential to build a cybersecurity sector that would contribute both to protecting and growing the digital economy.

“Our vision is that cybersecurity (at the least, its principles) should be woven into IT practice right from the education stage, including measures within the new computing curriculum in schools and in undergraduate degrees and we work as a professional body to support efforts to do this.”

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