IT is a platform for economic success and a fairer society

Labour's Chi Onwurah, formerly shadow Cabinet Office minister for digital government, outlines the party's policies for IT and digital

Editor's note: Computer Weekly invited the Conservative Party, Labour and the Liberal Democrats to provide an article on their general election manifestos for the IT and digital sectors. The Conservatives declined. The Lib Dems initially said yes, but subsequently changed their mind. Only Labour said yes and provided this article. 

When I decided to stand for Parliament five years ago, I did so for the same reasons I chose to study electrical engineering almost a quarter of a century earlier – I wanted to change the world for the better. Technology can transform peoples’ lives, and politicians can help ensure its benefits reach everyone, not just a lucky few.

IT already plays a significant part in people’s lives, but I believe the next decade will see even greater changes as everyone and everything gets online, and connected. The next government needs to make sure these changes are progressive.

The IT sector is both an important industry in its own right and a critical enabler for almost all other aspects of our economy and society from manufacturing to farming, from healthcare to civic engagement. The Labour Party recognises this and that is why the positive role technology should play in building a fairer future for our country is reflected across many different policy areas including, but not limited to, education, health, business and government.

As a sector, IT will benefit from our belief in a long term active industrial strategy. We will set up an independent National Infrastructure Commission to assess how best to meet Britain’s infrastructure needs. We will introduce a new long-term funding policy framework for science and innovation, providing the stability and continuity that our companies and research institutes need to succeed.

On the green economy,  we will end the current uncertainty for investors, with a timetable for the Green Investment Bank to be given additional powers so that it can invest in green businesses and technology.

These measures will help reinforce Britain’s status as one of the world’s greatest centres of science and engineering.

Our manifesto

As our manifesto details,  we will “drive innovation and build on our strengths as a leader in digital technology”. We are just at the start of the internet revolution. Digital technology has transformed startup costs making it easier to run your own business. There is a widening in the application of new transformative technologies in the fields of robotics, genetics, 3D printing and big data. Our economy is developing a network of connections that will revolutionise innovation. 

Labour will ensure that all parts of the country benefit from affordable, high-speed broadband by the end of the Parliament. We will work with the industry and the regulator to maximise private sector investment and deliver the mobile infrastructure needed to extend coverage and reduce "not spots", including in areas of market failure. And we will support community-based campaigns to reduce the proportion of citizens unable to use the internet and help those who need it to get the skills to make the most of digital technology.

Labour’s commitment to reducing and then freezing business rates for small businesses shows we recognise their critical role in bringing disruptive change and driving competition and innovation to improve products and services for consumers. We will support small businesses in their growth to becoming British success stories of the future by building a long-term investment culture in the private and public sectors whil retaining what is the most competitive rate of Corporation Tax in the G7.

We need to make sure IT businesses of all sizes have access to the skills they need and our Digital Skills Taskforce Report and Science Green Paper reflect that.  The Report of the Independent Review of Digital Government, which I commissioned, sets out both the challenge and opportunity for digital in the reform of public services.  

Most digital government ever

The next government will be the most digital ever and Labour will ensure that means inclusive, transparent and accountable. We will continue to back the principle of open data by default, releasing public sector performance data wherever possible and set up an independent review to develop a legal and ethical framework which enables citizens to own their own public sector data.

We will use digital technology to create a more responsive, devolved, and less costly system of government. Working with local authorities we will support platforms to promote the use and reuse of digital government services powered by people.

The next Labour government will support the growth and expansion of the IT industry while ensuring that everyone has the skills and the opportunity to grasp the possibilities it holds out to them.

Chi Onwurah was the Labour Party's shadow minister for digital government during the last Parliament. She is Labour's parliamentary candidate for Newcastle Central, where she served as MP from 2010 to the dissolution of the last Parliament. 

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