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TechUK releases ‘digital manifesto’ ahead of General Election 2019

The digital manifesto from TechUK looks at what technology policies the next government should adopt and sets objectives for how to make them happen

TechUK has published a digital manifesto ahead of the General Election setting out how it thinks the next government should use technology.

Released on 22 November, the manifesto, titled Towards a better future, says the winner of the General Election “must be determined to use technology with purpose to make things better: for people, society, the economy, and our planet.”

To promote this vision, trade association TechUK has set five core objectives, with an additional 25 recommendations on how the next government can achieve them.

“To move forward towards a better future, we will need to be optimistic about the opportunities, but also realistic about the challenges we face,” said TechUK CEO Julian David.

“The UK must build on its success and not only be the best place to start, grow and scale a tech business, but also lead the world in using digital technology for good.”

The five core objectives are building the ‘smarter state’; driving innovation and investment in the digital economy; ensuring a safe and secure online world; expanding skills, talent and opportunities for the future; and putting the UK at the heart of the global digital economy.

Key recommendations

The first recommendation TechUK makes in its manifesto is to drive digital transformation from the top of government by appointing a named ministerial champion in each department.

“The minister would have explicit responsibility for evangelising innovation and overseeing business transformation within the department,” said the manifesto.

“While all ministers and senior leaders within departments should view digital as central to achieving their aims, having a named minister in each department with specific responsibility for tech and digital transformation would focus efforts within a department and ensure the momentum of transformation is relentless.”

In the name of building the smarter state, TechUK is also calling on the next government to boost innovation by opening up procurement data, “so that tech companies can help solve some of the UK’s most pressing challenges”, and to use its purchasing power to support small companies bidding for government funds.

As part of the second objective to drive innovation and investment in the digital economy, TechUK has recommended that the next government should commit to 3% of GDP being spent on research and development (R&D) by 2030.

“The government should establish a challenge-based review of the UK’s R&D frameworks built around the twin challenges of achieving a 3% of GDP spent on R&D within 10 years, and creating targeted support for the development of new products from primary research and supporting these to be brought to market,” said the manifesto.

“The government should also seek to establish clusters of tech excellence, these should be created to leverage existing knowledge centres and regional specialisms to create world-leading hubs for tech development,” it added.

In line with this election’s emphasis on environmental issues, the manifesto also recommends establishing a “net-zero tech taskforce” to drive rapid decarbonisation and meet the 2050 net-zero target.

TechUK claims that digital technologies will support emission reductions of 50% with the right policy framework and leadership on the environment.

“The UK should be ambitious about the role technology can play in tackling the climate emergency. As the host of COP 26, the next government should work with the tech sector to lead the discussion on how technology and digital solutions can drive decarbonisation across the economy,” it said.

The recommendation ends with TechUK calling for the launch of an International Centre for AI for Energy and Climate at COP 26 in Glasgow.

Building skills for the future

To ensure safety online, TechUK is pushing for the introduction of a digital and media literacy curriculum for all primary and secondary schoolchildren.

The aim would be to equip every child with the tools needed to reap the full benefits of the internet while remaining safe and secure online.

“This curriculum should be co-created with industry to ensure that it remains up to date and relevant in a fast-changing world. Schools should be properly resourced to implement this curriculum,” said TechUK.

TechUK also recommend building a “skills brokerage platform” to make digital jobs more accessible.

“Employers and the education sector are investing heavily in digital skills programmes, but this is creating a fragmented patchwork of solutions that is difficult for people to navigate,” said the manifesto.

“There is an obvious opportunity for government to work with businesses and the education sector to create a platform that could aggregate these opportunities and better match the supply and demand of digital skills across the country.”

Data flow and protection

In the final section on putting the UK at the heart of the global digital economy, TechUK urges the next government to maintain the free flow of data across borders.

This would have to be done through an adequacy agreement, a mechanism designed to facilitate cross-border data transfers outside the EU.

The issue is that, since new data protection directives came into effect in 2018, the EU Commission is yet to make any adequacy decisions, meaning the UK and Northern Ireland will be treated as third countries without adequate protections after Brexit.

“Once this foundation has been secured the UK should look to new trading partners through future UK adequacy decisions or sectoral agreements to position the UK is at the heart of the global data economy,” said the manifesto.

Other recommendations include reforming the “underused” apprenticeship levy; maintaining an alignment with the EU single market; leading the conversation in digital ethics and responsible innovation by increased funding for the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation; investing £bn in the National Retraining Scheme to upskill people; and ending digital exclusion by the end of the next decade.

More than 850 companies are part of TechUK, and collectively employ more than 700,000 people. While its membership ranges from startups to FTSE 100 companies, most of TechUK’s members are small to medium-sized enterprises.

Read more about General Election 2019

  • 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.
  • 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 technique
  • The Liberal Democrat Party has pledged to accelerate the deployment of low-emission technologies, invest heavily in digital infrastructure and startups, and protect UK consumers from being exploited by big tech.

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