General Election 2019: Labour’s technology policies and digital plans

With the UK gearing up for its third General Election in four years, Computer Weekly outlines the Labour Party’s main technology policies and digital plans, as laid out in its manifesto

The Labour Party has committed itself to carrying out a “green industrial revolution” and rolling-out free full-fibre broadband to all citizens by 2030 if it wins the upcoming General Election.

In its manifesto, released 21 November, Labour has also pledged to challenge unscrupulous technology companies to protect UK consumers from exploitation, and support the development of a “technologically advanced police service”.

“Labour will kick-start a Green Industrial Revolution that will create one million jobs in the UK to transform our industry, energy, transport, agriculture and our buildings, while restoring nature,” said the manifesto.

“Our Green New Deal aims to achieve the substantial majority of our emissions reductions by 2030 in a way that is evidence-based, just and that delivers an economy that serves the interests of the many, not the few.”

Below is a breakdown of the Labour manifesto’s main digital plans and technology policies.

The economy and a Green New Deal

The central plank of Labour’s 2019 manifesto is its commitment to a green industrial revolution, in which “targeted science, research and innovation will be crucial”.

“We will launch a National Transformation Fund of £400bn and rewrite the Treasury’s investment rules to guarantee that every penny spent is compatible with our climate and environmental targets,” said the manifesto.

“Of this, £250bn will directly fund the transition through a Green Transformation Fund dedicated to renewable and low-carbon energy and transport, biodiversity and environmental restoration.”

Labour claims that, by 2030, it will deliver 90% of electricity and 50% of heat from renewable and low-carbon energy sources, putting the UK on track for a net-zero-carbon energy system in that decade.

To put this in motion, Labour will begin by building 7,000 offshore wind turbines, 2,000 onshore turbines, 22,000 football pitches worth of solar panels, and new nuclear power capabilities.

Labour will also upgrade “almost all” of the UK’s 27 million homes “to the highest energy-efficiency standards”, which it claims will reduce the average household energy bill by £417 per year.

Labour claims that, by 2030, it will deliver 90% of electricity and 50% of heat from renewable and low-carbon energy sources

“As part of heat decarbonisation, we will roll out technologies like heat pumps, solar hot water and hydrogen, and invest in district heat networks using waste heat,” it added.

In terms of transport, Labour will invest in electric vehicle charging infrastructure, as well as take bus and rail networks into public ownership. The transition of public buses to zero-emissions vehicles will also be accelerated.

In addition to transformation funds and plans for green infrastructure, Labour has also set a target for 3% of GDP to be spent on research and development (R&D) by 2030, with the aim of ensuring that “new technologies aren’t just invented here, but are engineered, manufactured and exported from here”.

This R&D funding will primarily be used to further develop new green technologies, such as carbon capture and storage.

Given their increasingly prominent role in government procurement, especially in regards to technology, startups will also be able to get smaller loans through Labour’s new Post Bank, which will be based in Post Office branches around the country.

These loans will also be available to local cooperatives and other small businesses to enable “thousands of bottom-up transformational changes”.

Labour has also promised to rein in “wanton corporate destruction by taking on the powerful interests that are causing climate change”.

To do this, the party will change the criteria companies must meet to be listed on the London Stock Exchange, “so that any company that fails to contribute to tackling the climate and environmental emergency is delisted”.

A Ministry of Employment Rights will also be introduced to tackle work insecurity, which it will do by strengthening protections for whistleblowers and banning zero-hours contracts, as well as introducing a legal right to collective consultation on the implementation of new technology in workplaces.

Digital infrastructure and big tech

Another major Labour policy, which was made public before the manifesto launch, is the roll-out of free full-fibre broadband to all citizens by 2030.

“In the age of AI and automation, digital connectivity will underpin our future economy. We will need world-class digital infrastructure in which everyone can share,” said the manifesto.

To achieve the roll-out, Labour will establish British Broadband, which will be split into two arms: British Digital Infrastructure (BDI) and the British Broadband Service (BBS).

BDI will be tasked with rolling out the network, while BBS will be there to coordinate the delivery of free broadband.

The operating costs of the project will be covered by the “taxation of multinationals, including tech giants”, which would also have their “monopolistic hold…on advertising revenues” challenged by the party.

Fines will be imposed on any companies that fail to deal with online abuse, accompanied by a Charter of Digital Rights to empower the public.

Labour is also critical of the way the Conservatives have introduced Universal Credit (UC) as a digital-only benefit, saying that it excludes vulnerable people.

“Labour will end the digital barrier and offer telephone, face-to-face and outreach support. We will recruit 5,000 additional advisors to deliver this,” said the manifesto.

Education and skills

Closely linked with its plans for a green new deal, Labour’s manifesto speaks at length about the need for lifelong learning, with a particular focus on technical training and education, to give people the skills they will need to access the “jobs of the future”.

One way Labour will be doing this is through climate apprenticeships, which aims to help employers foster the skills necessary for the UK to lead the world in clean technology.

“Under this programme, employers will be expected to allocate 25% of the funds in their Apprenticeship Levy accounts to training climate apprentices,” said the manifesto.

Labour will create a National Education Service to overhaul the school system and widen the national curriculum

“Targeted bursaries will be available to women, BAME people, care leavers, ex-armed forces personnel, and people with disabilities to encourage them to take up climate apprenticeships – the STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] of the future.”

More broadly, Labour will also create a National Education Service to overhaul the school system and widen the national curriculum.

While the proposals related to a National Education Service are wide-ranging, Labour has promised that “pupils will learn both the science of climate and environmental emergency, and the skills necessary to deal with them”.

Labour will also extend people the opportunity to retrain and upskill throughout their lives, because “England already faces a shortage of people with higher-level technical qualifications, and demand for these skills will only grow as we create new green jobs”.

Additional educational opportunities will be given to workers in industries that will be most affected by Labour’s proposed industrial transition.

National security

In terms of its security policies, technology will play a small but decisive role in Labour’s government should it win the upcoming General Election.

The remits of both the National Crime Agency and National Cyber Security Centre will be reviewed to see if their powers can be expanded, while cyber security more generally will be overhauled through the creation of a coordinating minister and regular reviews of the government’s cyber readiness.

Labour will also “ensure a modern, technologically advanced police service that has the capacity and skills to combat online crime, supported by a new national strategy on cyber crime and fraud”.

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