Getty Images/iStockphoto

General Election 2019: The Conservatives’ technology policies and digital plans

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

The Conservative and Unionist Party has promised to support innovation, embrace technology on the front lines of healthcare and policing, and invest £500m to help energy-intensive industries transition to low-carbon techniques.

Released on Sunday 24 November, the 59-page manifesto sets out how the Conservatives will go about realising their vision of “a high-wage, high-skill, low-tax economy”.

As such, the manifesto makes a number of pledges that revolve around “unleashing” innovation.

“Once we have got Brexit done, we will turn our attention to the great challenges of the future, such as clean energy and advanced energy storage; a cure for dementia; and solving antibiotic resistance,” said the manifesto.

“To do this, we will make an unprecedented investment in science so we can strengthen research and build the foundations for the new industries of tomorrow.”

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

Investing in innovation

The manifesto is particularly supportive of entrepreneurs, saying that “from decarbonisation to expanding the frontiers of artificial intelligence, they are tackling some of the great challenges of our time. We want to be a nation of startups, and of successful scale-ups”.

To further advance this idea, the Conservatives will increase the tax credit rate to 13% and review the definition of research and development (R&D), so that investments in cloud computing and data, which they claim boost productivity and innovation, are incentivised too.

The overall aim is to increase R&D spend to 2.4% of GDP, with a particular focus “on areas where the UK can generate a commanding lead in the industries of the future – life sciences, clean energy, space, design, computing, robotics and artificial intelligence”.

“We want to be a nation of startups, and of successful scale-ups”
Conservative Party manifesto

They also promise to continue the Seed Enterprise Investment and Enterprise Investment schemes into the next Parliament, as well as to review and reform Entrepreneur’s Relief.

“We will support startups and small businesses via government procurement, and commit to paying them on time. We will also clamp down on late payment,” said the manifesto.

On top of this, the manifesto promises to unlock long-term capital in pension funds, which will be used to invest in and commercialise new scientific discoveries.

In an effort to ensure that major multinational corporations pay “their fair share of tax”, the party will also implement a Digital Services Tax, although it is unclear from the manifesto exactly what this would entail.

The party also hopes to drive greater foreign investment into the UK through bodies such as the Northern Powerhouse, Western Gateway and Midlands Engine.

In terms of the environment, the party makes a number of commitments to fighting climate change, using a mixture of infrastructure investment and technology to meet its target of reaching net-zero carbon by 2050.

To do this, in its first budget the Conservative Party will prioritise decarbonisation schemes, new flood defences, electric vehicle infrastructure (including a national plug-in network and “gigafactory”), clean energy and higher R&D spending.

The manifesto adds that the party will work “with the market” to deliver two million new jobs in clean growth.

This includes an £800m investment in building a deployable “carbon capture storage cluster” by the mid-2020s, a £500m investment to help energy-intensive industries move to low-carbon techniques, and a £9.2bn investment in improving the energy efficiency of schools, hospitals and homes.

Education and skills

To deal with how automation and other technological changes will affect the economy, the manifesto promises “a dramatic rebooting of our training system – to support public services, existing businesses and the businesses of the future”.

At the centre of the Conservatives’ plans to reskill workers is a new National Skills Fund, which will be worth £3bn and help businesses find and hire the workers they need.

“This fund will provide matching funding for individuals and SMEs [small to medium-sized enterprises] for high-quality education and training. A proportion will be reserved for further strategic investment in skills, and we will consult widely on the overall design,” the manifesto stated.

“[The Conservatives will create bespoke visa schemes for new migrants who will fill shortages in our public services, build the companies and innovations of the future and benefit Britain for years to come”
Conservative Party manifesto

These investments in education will also be supplemented by an additional £2bn to upgrade the entire further education college estate, and the creation of 20 Institutes of Technology, which will connect high-quality science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) teaching to business and industry.

To further attract talent and skills, the party will “create bespoke visa schemes for new migrants who will fill shortages in our public services, build the companies and innovations of the future and benefit Britain for years to come”.

While this includes a specific NHS Visa, the tech sector specifically will be supported by a fast-track visa for “the best technology and science graduates from the top universities in the world”.

A separate Startup Visa will also be introduced to attract entrepreneurs to the UK as well.

Digital infrastructure

The Conservatives have promised to deliver full-fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025.

“We know how difficult it will be, so we have announced a raft of legislative changes to accelerate progress and £5bn of new public funding to connect premises which are not commercially viable,” said the manifesto.

The party claims that its broadband plans will make it easier for businesses to operate and connect with customers from around the world.

By the mid-2020s, the party wants to build 300,000 homes a year, which it calls “homes of the future”.

“We will encourage innovative design and technology to make housing more affordable, accessible and suitable for disabled people and an ageing population.”

National security and public services

The Conservatives have pledged to “crack down on online crimes” by embracing new technologies in law enforcement.

“We will create a new national cyber crime force and empower the police to safely use new technologies like biometrics and artificial intelligence, along with the use of DNA, within a strict legal framework,” said the manifesto.

The party has also committed to expanding the use of electronic tagging for those serving time outside of jail, and will “legislate to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online”.

“We will create a new national cyber crime force and empower the police to safely use new technologies like biometrics and artificial intelligence, along with the use of DNA, within a strict legal framework”
Conservative Party manifesto

On healthcare, the manifesto promises to use new technologies for the screening of illnesses, provide flexible working for clinicians and generally improve patient experiences.

While it is unclear what would be discussed or how it would feed into the government’s approach on healthcare technology, the party has committed to holding an annual health technology summit.

Finding a cure for dementia has also been marked as one of the party’s “biggest collective priorities”, leading to further pledges to double research funding into the condition and speed up trials for new treatments.  

Beginning in April 2020, there will be an additional £1bn in funding for social care. While this had already been announced prior to the manifesto launch, the document confirms that part of this pot will go towards “better infrastructure, technology and facilities”.

The manifesto says there will be further investment in “world-class computing and health data systems” to aid research that has the potential to transform diagnosis and treatment.

More generally, the Conservatives aim to “improve the use of data, data science and evidence in the process of government”.

Read more about tech pledges


Read more on IT for government and public sector

Data Center
Data Management