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Conservative Party: Fostering an environment for IT and digital to flourish

Matt Warman, Conservative MP and minister for digital and broadband, outlines the Tory policies for technology and digital ahead of the General Election

The UK is a world leader in areas such as information technology and digital services. But we can, and must, go further. To do so, we need to break the deadlock in Parliament, get Brexit done and ensure that we are fostering the very best environment in which our IT and digital services can flourish.

A Conservative majority government will get Brexit done and move on with a programme of investment in education, infrastructure and technology, to create a high-wage, high-skill, low-tax economy.

We know that computing and automation are changing how businesses function and transforming workplaces and jobs. This isn’t something that we should fear – on the contrary, we should be excited by what awaits us. After we leave the European Union, we will be free to develop forward-looking regulations that ensure we are first in line to develop and benefit from the technologies of the future.

And to make sure that we continue to lead in this field, we must reboot our training system so that public services, businesses and workers have the skills they need to thrive. We want to train up hundreds of thousands more highly skilled apprentices, in areas like coding. There will also be opportunities for apprentices in big new infrastructure projects – hospitals, schools, transport projects and our multibillion-pound fibre and 5G programme.

Better skills

We must ensure that children are leaving school better equipped to deal with the new world of computing, automation and technology. We have made significant progress, but there is more to do to level up the skills of the entire nation. Children and young adults that are passionate about computing must know that they have the same opportunities to succeed – from London to Lancaster and Falmouth to Fleet.

That is why I am so pleased that our manifesto commits to introducing a £3bn National Skills Fund over the next Parliament, to provide matching funding for individuals and SMEs for high-quality education and training. We are also investing almost £2bn to upgrade the entire further education college estate. And we’ll also have 20 Institutes of Technology, which connect high-quality teaching in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) to business and industry.

We are committing to the fastest-ever increase in domestic public R&D spending, including in basic science research to meet our target of 2.4% of GDP being spent on R&D across the economy. Some of this new spending will go to a new agency for high-risk, high-payoff research, and we will continue to support our outstanding science sector as we leave the EU.

By getting Brexit done, we will be able to design immigration routes for those that make the biggest contribution – making the UK a magnet for the best and the brightest. A Conservative majority government will create bespoke visa schemes for new migrants who will fill the shortages in our public services, build the companies and innovations of the future and benefit Britain as we move towards our positive post-Brexit future.

We want to be able to recruit leaders in their field to come to the UK. The small number of the best technology and science graduates from the top universities in the world will be offered fast-track entry to the UK – as they will help drive the UK’s scientific and technological progress.

Technology capital of Europe

This country is home to more innovative and successful new companies than anywhere else in Europe – especially in the technology sector. Our manifesto has committed to increasing the tax credit rate to 13% and reviewing the definition of R&D so that important investments in cloud computing and data, which boost productivity and innovation, are also incentivised.

And I want to make sure that everyone can benefit from the fact that we are the technology capital of Europe. To do so, everyone in this country needs to be better connected. A Conservative majority government intends to bring full-fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025. It will be a challenge, but we will make the legislative changes required and invest to get it done.

Poor mobile signal will also be a thing of the past, and in the first 100 days of a Conservative majority government we would finalise a £1bn agreement with mobile phone operators to pool existing phone masts and build new ones. This would enable us to dramatically improve mobile service in the countryside. This agreement would be the first of its kind around the world. It will see additional coverage to 280,000 homes and businesses and 16,000km of roads. 

As well as legislating to better connect this country, we would also legislate to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online – protecting children from online abuse and harms, protecting the most vulnerable from accessing harmful content, and ensuring there is no safe space for terrorists to hide online – but at the same time defending freedom of expression and, in particular, recognising and defending the invaluable role of a free press.

The UK finds itself at a crossroads. The choice before us is a simple one, but the consequences are huge. A Conservative majority government will get Brexit done and move this country forwards with a programme of investment in education, infrastructure and technology. A vote for Jeremy Corbyn will result in more dither, more delay, and the utter chaos of another two referendums – in addition to a fantasy plan to nationalise broadband, which would cost hardworking taxpayers tens of billions of pounds.

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