How impressed is the UK tech scene with 2017’s election manifestos? Credit: dominika zarzycka / Shutterstock.com
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How impressed is the UK tech scene with 2017’s election manifestos?

Tomorrow, on the 8th June, the UK will go to the polls again to elect a new Prime Minister. All of the major parties have released their manifestos. But, as is often the case, technology policy doesn’t get much of a look in. But that hasn’t stopped the UK tech community having plenty of opinions on issues such as Brexit, skills, and data privacy.

We asked people from a range of companies within the UK: small startups, big multinationals, analysts, and more, what they thought about some of the policies in the manifestos of the political parties in this year’s general election, and where they thought the priorities for the next government should be after 8th June.

Almost all the comments we received focused on the Conservative manifesto, which isn’t surprising considering the party’s current – if narrowing - lead in the polls. Policies around digital skills were a common theme, while Brexit & data privacy also drew reaction.

 

Julian Wragg, VP EMEA and APAC at Pluralsight:

Britain’s three main political parties each made significant pledges around technology and skills in their manifestos. We’re currently enjoying a boom in the digital sector, but for Britain to be the best innovation economy in the world, it requires a political party that will truly nurture our digital potential. 

We welcome the manifesto commitments to invest in skills and the importance of life-long learning which was acknowledged by all the main parties. The Conservatives have pledged £250 million to invest in skills by 2020, and said they will introduce the right to request leave for training. While this leave will be needed for certain industries such as teaching and healthcare, when it comes to digital upskilling there is no reason it can’t be done on the job. However, we don’t believe any government can achieve its digital reskilling ambitions by using traditional face-to-face classroom training alone. Training needs to be available online and on-demand to ensure it can scale nationally.

The Liberal Democrats also deserve praise for committing to keep coding in the curriculum. The UK has been a pioneer of the knowledge economy, so it’s essential that young people learn the digital skills that are becoming prerequisites for employment. And, we need to ensure that the curriculum caters beyond coding – for instance promoting multi-disciplinary approaches to design. 

I’m also intrigued by Labour’s pledge to introduce incentives for large employers to over-train numbers of apprentices to fill skills gaps in the supply chain and wider industry. On-the-job training is something we do well, and so giving young people a chance to get into the workforce and train from within could be a great economic driver – especially in technology. Finally, Labour’s commitment to set-up a commission on lifelong learning tasked with integrating further and higher education is another step in the right direction for understanding that people increasingly seek career change, and that we’re working longer.

We’ll obviously have to wait and see if the winning party sticks to its promises, but we’re encouraged that all three are committed to lifelong learning which is vital for our economy to prosper, especially in a post-Brexit environment. 

 

Ashley Winton, partner at law firm Paul Hastings, and Chairman of the UK Data Protection Forum:

At the back of the new Conservative Manifesto, there is promise of a new digital charter that “balances freedom with protection for users, and offers opportunities alongside obligations for businesses and platforms”, alongside a new Data Use and Ethics Commission which will advise regulators, including the ICO, and Parliament on the nature of data use.

Many commentators had assumed that upon Brexit the Great Repeal Bill would contain a cut and paste of the GDPR into English law so that we could maintain the same standards of data protection with our friends in on the continent. But is this what is being offered here? The Conservatives are offering to give people new rights to ensure they are in control of their own data, including the ability to require major social media platforms to delete information held about them at the age of 18, the ability to access and export personal data and an expectation that personal data held should be stored in a secure way.

These rights look more like the rights we currently have under UK data protection law rather than the more expansive rights under the GDPR, and the Data Use and Ethics Commission looks like a body that is taking over some of the future function of the European Data Protection Board. If the UK does not maintain the same standards of data protection as prescribed by the GDPR, the transfer of personal data between continental Europe and the UK will become more difficult, and this could have implications upon businesses and their service providers who need a free flow of personal data across Europe. As to the future of the GDPR in the UK, it looks like we will see more cut and less paste.

 

Martin Moran, MD International at InsideSales.com:

The Conservative manifesto pledge to address the existing skills gap is a step in the right direction, but we need to ensure that the UK has the right technical grounding to power our digital economy. Failing to do so could have worrying consequences.

Whichever Government is elected in June must work together with businesses to identify training needs. The creation of internships, apprenticeships and job opportunities for people to advance their careers is essential. Ireland is leading the way in this respect by supporting organisations such as The Insight Centre for Analytics to find solutions and positively impact society. The UK can surely learn from its example.

 

Andrew Bartels, Principle Analyst at Forrester:

I don't think the UK elections will have any impact on tech spending, assuming as looks likely that the Conservatives increase their majority in Parliament. That will simply continue current economic policy, which is basically in denial about what Brexit will actually mean for the British economy (that is, slower growth, and loss of financial services and potentially manufacturing to the continent).  Only in the unlikely event that Labour alone or with the Liberal Democrats win would there be any change in policy, and even that would be minor unless it results in a new referendum and a reversal of Brexit.

 

Kim Nilsson, CEO at Pivigo:

I am surprised and disappointed to see a policy in the Conservative manifesto that so clearly stands in the face of encouraging diversity in the workplace, and the important task of bringing vital talent into UK business.

Increasing curbs on the hiring of skilled immigrant workers in the section entitled “the skills we need” is a complete contradiction in terms. There is a digital skills shortage in the UK now, and there are migrant workers at our disposal to contribute to British innovation and economy. Among the business community, there were already concerns on Brexit’s potential to impact not just access to talent, but the movement of entrepreneurial individuals that see London as a hotbed for investment, creativity and collaboration. It is incredible that the governing party would want to compound this issue with an immigration policy that aims to do just that.

Beyond the technical skills the UK will be missing out on, I am also of the strong belief that it is in the interest of businesses and the economy to build diverse teams that represent multiple nationalities, cultures and genders. Diversity is an essential part of challenging the status quo and creating unique and exciting ideas that have the ability to penetrate national borders and stand up on the world stage.

 

Richard Lack, EMEA managing director at Gigya:

Mrs May's headline grabbing proclamation that teenagers will be afforded the right to be forgotten on social media platforms is interesting, since this right is already enshrined in the EU's new General Data Protection Regulation from May 25th 2018, which will be signed into UK law and which Elizabeth Denham, the UK Information Commissioner has already stated will be "essentially equivalent" in the safeguards it offers post Brexit, and regardless of age.

Equally, the acceptability of e-signatures was settled under UK Law since the Electronic Communications Act, which is now 17 years passed. During this period the business world has witnessed a mass extinction of the fax machine, while the failed and frustrating Government Gateway is cited globally as an example of how not to design and online service. Hint - it's not 'online' if you need to activate by post.

 

Rafael Laguna, CEO at Open-Xchange:

Theresa May’s Conservatives have outlined a vision of Britain’s digital future that is dangerously short-sighted. In one hand they claim they will strengthen the cyber-security of public services, businesses and users. In the other, encryption technology is firmly in the cross-hairs, absurdly alluded to as a “safe space for terrorists to communicate”. The important role of encryption in securing critical national, financial and personal information is well known but is easily crowded out by this scare-mongering rhetoric. The inconvenient truth is that encryption makes us all safer.

It is somewhat encouraging that the government is apparently “open to discussions with the leading tech companies … about the global rules of the digital economy”. However, in the same breath they maintain “it is for government, not private companies to protect the security of people.” The tech community must stand up to politicians and ensure that any forthcoming legislation effectively balances security with privacy.

This manifesto also worryingly paves the way for a censored internet, something which runs contrary to its inherently open nature and the long-term value of this platform to the world. Putting responsibility on industry providers to remove “pornography, or other sources of harm” begs the question of whose judgement we should follow over what constitutes inappropriate content. What follows is a slippery slope towards the erosion of essential civil liberties. ISPs can side-step this issue by giving users the tools to block malicious or inappropriate content at the IP level. This unique selling point grants customers the freedom to curate their own content filters.

 

Milko Van Duijl, ‎ General Manager, UKI, at CA Technologies:

Prioritising the UK’s technology sector will be crucial in robust Brexit negotiations, which are essential to securing the best possible position for the UK following its departure from the EU. We are therefore looking to the next government to help create an environment where companies can not only prosper, but where advanced technology is harnessed by the UK workforce and public sector to increase productivity and the effectiveness of citizen services.

It is positive that the main parties have recognised some of the priority areas that members of the UK tech community see as pivotal – namely boosting investment in R&D, productivity and world class digital and data infrastructure. We welcome proposals to increase R&D spend through the National Productivity Investment Fund, of which a sizable amount has been pledged to digital infrastructure.

 The manifestos have highlighted some of the impacts of the data economy. However, we call on the next Government to focus on developing the UK’s data economy, both in the private and public sector, as a means to solving Britain’s productivity puzzle.

We also call for a continued focus on investment in cyber security. We have welcomed the previous government announcements in this area and the creation of the National Cyber Security Centre. Developing public trust in the Government’s ability to handle data and provide digital services is central to growing the digital and data economy in the UK.

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect. Writes about all manner of tech from driverless cars, AI, and Green IT to Cloudy stuff, security, and IoT. Dislikes autoplay ads/videos and garbage written about 'milliennials'.  

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