The SNP has called for a universal service obligation, to cover provision of fibre broadband across the UK, in its General Election manifesto published today.
It also highlighted science and technology research and a desire for “world-class digital connectivity” in Scotland.
World-class digital connectivity by 2020
The party’s commitments on digital included the delivery of a “future-proofed infrastructure that will establish world-class digital connectivity across Scotland by 2020, including tackling the digital divide”.
Investment in superfast broadband would mean that 95% of premises across Scotland would be able to access fibre broadband by the end of 2017.It promised to foster a “culture of innovation” in Scotland, by establishing a ministerial-led Innovation Forum and supporting the network of Innovation Centres. The aim, it said, was to ensure effective knowledge and innovation transfer from the academic research base into the wider business community.
The commitment includes a £1m Innovation Challenge Fund to help address “major societal and industrial challenges”.
Fibre broadband a priority for all parties
Superfast broadband roll-out was a priority in each of the three main UK party manifestos published last week. The SNP commitment matches that of the Conservatives. Labour pledged to ensure “all parts of the country benefit from affordable, high-speed broadband by the end of the Parliament”. The Liberal Democrats meanwhile offered the strongest proposal, promising to reach 99.9% of UK households.
The last Conservative Party-Liberal Democrat coalition government created the Government Digital Service (GDS) to lead the creation of “digital by default” public services, an initiative that has been widely praised.
All three parties intend to continue the work of GDS, although Labour has criticised it for failing to meet its targets for new digital services.
Uniquely, the Liberal Democrats have introduced the concept of Technology Impact Assessments as part of the government policy design process to ensure the IT implications of new policies are properly considered.
The Conservatives would treble its Startup Loans programme during the next Parliament, aiming for 75,000 entrepreneurs to borrow money to set up their own business.
Its manifesto also singled out the growth of the finance technology sector and promised to support digital-first ‘challenger’ banks.
Disagreement on which areas to focus on
Labour said it wants to build on the UK’s strengths as a technology leader. It highlighted fields such as a robotics, genetics, 3D printing and big data as areas of opportunity.
The Liberal Democrats highlighted the fact that 15% of all firms created last year were digital companies, and promised to support the sector.
The party wants to intend to build on the success of Tech City, Tech North and the Cambridge technology cluster with a network across the UK acting as incubators for technology companies.
The Conservatives intend to provide extra cyber training and equipment for police forces and promises to resurrect the failed Communications Data Bill to enable mass monitoring and bulk data collection of people’s internet activities.
Labour acknowledged the need for data privacy and the role of technology in the intelligence services and called for greater oversight of the security services.
The Liberal Democrats proposed a digital bill of rights, promising an overhaul of surveillance powers in 2016 and protections for the use of encryption.
Other main UK party proposals included:
Conservatives – lead the development of global 5G mobile standards; introduce of smart ticketing and Wi-Fi on trains; and support for NHS electronic medical records and healthcare technologies.
Labour – review the IT implementation of the controversial Universal Credit welfare programme; promote “open data by default” for government information; introduce a single smart ticketing network for trains, buses and trams.
Liberal Democrats – introduce a £250m fund for healthcare technology; call more use of open data in government; and a promise to support the EU digital single market.