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UK needs to face ‘challenge of automation’, says Corbyn

Labour leader says new technologies provide opportunities, but could be a threat “in the hands of the greedy” and require re-training of the UK workforce

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has warned that the UK must get to grips with the impact of new technologies and automation on the nation’s workforce.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference yesterday (27 September), Corbyn said the country needs to “urgently face the challenge of automation” as new technological inventions such as robots could take over much “contemporary work”.

“That is a threat in the hands of the greedy, but it’s a huge opportunity if it is managed in the interests of society as a whole,” he said, adding that a Labour government would ask “big business” to pay more tax.

“We won’t reap the full rewards of these great technological advances if they are monopolised to pile up profits for a few,” he said.

The Labour leader added that if technology is “publicly managed” in a way that shares the benefits, it could create a “gateway for a new settlement between work and leisure”.

He also reiterated Labour’s commitment to a national education service that would aim to make further education courses free at the point of use.

“The tide of automation and technological change means retraining and management of the workforce must be centre-stage in the coming years,” said Corbyn.

“So Labour will build an education and training system from the cradle to the grave that empowers people – not one that shackles them with debt.”

Read more about Labour and IT

  • The Labour Party’s 2017 election manifesto highlights better use of technology, maintaining data protection, and a £250bn investment in infrastructure.
  • Labour leader says Britain needs to respond to the fourth industrial revolution and leaving the EU by harnessing innovation.

Commenting on Corbyn’s speech, TechUK deputy CEO Antony Walker said the Labour leader was correct in saying that automation could bring societal benefits, but the UK must be “careful not to undermine the investment in digital technologies that will drive productivity and economic growth”.

Walker added: “All political parties should be thinking about how we handle the challenges to come from accelerated automation. But it is too soon to be making assumptions about its impact on either jobs or the tax base. Care needs to be taken not to put a tax on productivity growth, which is so fundamental to raising living standards.”

In a speech earlier this year at the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) Business and Education Summit, Corbyn said people should not be afraid that new technologies would result in mass unemployment, “as long as it’s not left up to the market”.

He said it required public institutions and investment to manage the social and economic benefits that technological change brings. .......................................................................................................

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