UK Election 2017 – The Liberal Democrat digital manifesto

SUMMARY:

Brexit, Brexit and more Brexit – but there are also some digital economy strands running through the Liberal Democrat Election Manifesto.

In the second of our looks at the digital aspects of the various political parties Election Manifestos, the Liberal Democrats are next up.

Brexit

The Liberal Democrat Manifesto is, by its own admission, big on Brexit. While Labour and the Conservatives both accept that Brexit is going to happen, the Lib Dems want to stop a so-called Hard Brexit in its tracks and to offer up a second referendum.

In this election cycle, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has attracted more headines around his views on gay sex as a sin – he doesn’t think it is, but it took a while for him to say it – and his seeming reversal of his anti-abortion stance to one of pro-choice, but it’s Brexit that’s at the top of the agenda in the Manifesto:

Brexit is at the heart of our Manifesto. At this historic moment, nothing is more important to us. A bad Brexit deal, with Britain outside the Single Market, will wreck our children’s future. It will wreak havoc on our economy, our schools and our hospitals. It will turn Britain into a regressive, isolated and inconsequential nation.

In terms of the digital and tech sectors, two pledges in particular matter. The first is continued membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union:

We believe that any deal negotiated for the UK outside the EU must ensure that trade can continue without customs controls at the border; and must maintain membership of the Single Market, which smooths trade between the UK and the continent by providing a common ‘rule book’ for businesses and a common mechanism to ensure that everyone abides by the rules.

The second is commitment to freedom of movement. Labour has admitted that this will end with Brexit, but the Lib Dems are intent on maintaining it:

To abandon it would threaten Britain’s prosperity and reputation as an open, tolerant society. Any deal negotiated for the UK outside the EU must protect the right to work, travel, study and retire across the EU. Any restrictions sought by the government must take account of the vital importance of EU workers to the British economy, including public services.

There’s no mention of digital-specific post-Brexit concerns, such as data transfer and cross-border data flow.

Industrial Strategy

For its Industrial Strategy, the Liberal Democrat Party is heavy on tech:

In the knowledge-based economy of the future, scientific research, innovation and skills will be crucial to prosperity. The advent of robotics and increasing artificial intelligence will also change the nature of work for many people. The government needs to act now to ensure this technological march can benefit everyone and that no areas are left in technology’s wake.

To that end, it pledges to:

  • Protect the science budget, including the recent £2 billion increase, by continuing to raise it at least in line with inflation.
  • Guarantee to underwrite funding for British partners in EU-funded projects like Horizon 2020 who would suffer from cancellation of income on Brexit.
  • Create more ‘Catapult’ innovation and technology centres and backing private investment in particular in green innovation.
  • Develop a national skills strategy for key sectors, including low-carbon technologies, to help match skills and people.
  • Double the number of SMEs participating in the digital economy by supporting ICT capital expenditure by businesses in non-digital sectors.
  • Build on the success of Tech City, Tech North and the Cambridge tech cluster with a network across the UK acting as incubators for technology companies.
  • Commit to build digital skills in the UK and retain coding on the National Curriculum in England.
  • Double the number of businesses which hire apprentices, including by extending apprenticeships to new sectors of our economy, like creative and digital industries.
  • Meet all basic skills needs including literacy, numeracy and digital skills by 2030.

Broadband

The Tories reckon 10 Mbps is pretty much all people need as a baseline guaranteed broadband speed, a view that keeps the likes of BT happy.

Labour believes the baseline to be 30 Mbps, a view that is likely to make BT jittery.

The Lib Dems want a minimum speed of 2 Gbps or more by 2020, fibre to the premises (FTTP) as standard and an unlimited usage cap by 2020 across the whole of the UK. I imagine BT’s views on that are pretty much unrepeatable in polite company.

How this investment will be funded or how much it will cost has not been disclosed.

Tax

The Lib Dems will reverse the planned reduction of Corporation Tax – from 20% to 17% – as well as take “tough action” against corporate tax evasion and avoidance. This will mean:

  • Reforming Corporation Tax to develop a system that benefits the smallest companies while ensuring the biggest multinationals cannot avoid paying sums comparable to nationally-based competitors.
  • Reviewing the Business Rates system, prioritising reforms that recognise the development of the digital economy, lessen the burden on smaller businesses, and ensure high streets remain competitive.

The Gig Economy

Compared to the Labour Manifesto, the Lib Dems don’t go much beyond aspirational declarations in regard to the changing nature of employement/work, particularly the so-called Gig Economy. The Manifesto commits to:

  • Create a new retail and business strategy to look at the impact of new technology on jobs in key sectors.
  • Modernise employment rights to make them fit for the age of the ‘gig’ economy, looking to build on the forthcoming Taylor Report.

Online lives

Unlike Labour and the Conservatives, there’s no explicit ‘getting tough on social media firms’ rhetoric in the Manifesto. There a commitment to introduce a Digital Bill of Rights that:

protects people’s powers over their own information, supports individuals over large corporations, and preserves the neutrality of the Web.

A Lib Dem government would also:

  • Order Ofcom to launch an immediate full assessment of whether it has appropriate powers to deal with concentrations of power in the digital economy.
  • Roll back state surveillance powers by ending the indiscriminate bulk collection of communications data, bulk hacking, and the collection of Internet Connection Records.
  • Oppose attempts to undermine encryption.

Digital Health

There’s an acknowledgement of the potential use of digital tech in health service delivery. To that end, the Lib Dems want to encourage GPs to develop the facility for online, phone and Skype appointments, as well as using innovation funding to promote GP-led multi-disciplinary health and care hubs, including mobile services to keep people out of hospital.\

The techUK take

Antony Walker, deputy CEO of UK technology industry association techUK, says:

The Liberal Democrat manifesto recognises the importance of tech in our future prosperity. We particularly welcome their strong focus on lifelong learning and education. Enabling the next generation to take advantage of the opportunities created by tech will require radical changes in the education system, as techUK have called for in our Inventing the Future manifesto. We are pleased that the Liberal Democrats have recognised the need for greater flexibility in training budgets, including how the apprenticeship levy is used.

We also welcome the Liberal Democrat’s decision to adopt techUK’s call to double the number of SMEs engaging in the digital economy. Ensuring more SMBs are given the support they need to transition to the new digital world will be vital in increasing productivity and generating growth.Finally, the Liberal Democrats commitment to invest in science and R&D. Innovation will be the key to our success for the future, and that will mean supporting our world class universities, giving public services such as our NHS the funding they need to innovate and supporting business through a strong industrial strategy.

The Liberal Democrat Manifesto can be found here. 

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