THE BLOG

Technology and the UK Elections

06/05/2015 10:17 BST | Updated 05/05/2016 10:59 BST

As the UK general election draws closer whichever political party is victorious will not only have to address some of the most challenging domestic and foreign policy issues of recent years, but also technological ones which could shape the way that we use technology over the next decade.

Close your eyes for a second and consider for example how the different parties, with what you know of them, might for example use personal data in the future to aid policing and other public services.

Each party has to a greater or lesser degree included some mention of technology in their manifestos, but not enough focus has been applied and there are and will be issues the next government will have to address.

Although 'Europe' has featured in a number of campaigns it needs to also be considered in terms of UK Technology. Over the past couple of years we've seen the EU take a greater role throughout the technology sector - particularly in terms of intellectual property rights, antitrust and privacy. Just last week plans for a Digital Single Market were leaked which outlined a case for breaking down barriers in cross-border online activity and full portability of content across Europe. Though the document is still in draft form it could mean drastic changes. The EU Commission is also beginning to exert pressure both in terms of taxation and antitrust and the UK will have to decide what these will mean for its citizens and the businesses situated here.

There has been a growing awareness in the UK and across Europe about the value of data and privacy over the past 12 months. It seems as though consumers and decision makers are realising that the internet is not necessarily "free". With the exponential growth of connected devices (IDC is predicting the worldwide smart connected device market will accelerate past 2bn units by the end of 2015) and online services, governments will have to think about how to redefine privacy. In the post-Snowden world this is particularly factitious and governments are increasingly being held accountable for the data that they are collecting. For example following the launch of Care.data, there was almost universal national condemnation. Combined with personal experience from data theft and fraud, citizens will demand greater safeguards; particularly making sure that government partners use data responsibly.

The "economic downturn" highlighted how IT can help drive efficiency and reduce public sector spending. It is also critical for assisting SME's the drivers of the UK's economy. Estimates suggest that there are about 4 million in the UK and those in the technology sector increasingly focused upon, as they generally develop much more rapidly than the 15 year average of traditional businesses. All the manifestos currently recognise the need to provide support for SMEs but provision of funds is just one aspect. The next government will need to examine the skills gap that exists, building on the House of Lords committee report recommending that digital literacy should be a core subject in schools.

Investment in technology infrastructure will play a big role over the next five years and is actually a key campaigning issue. In a survey of 2,500 UK residents by broadband, TV and mobile comparison site Cable.co.uk found almost one in five (18pc) said that broadband policy will affect the way they vote. Not only are blackspots hindering SME growth outside of the capital but in London too; the capital was ranked sixth from bottom in a recent survey of broadband provision in European major cities. In order to evolve our cities to become "Smart Cities" we need the appropriate infrastructure to cope with the vast amount of data that will be a necessary by-product. Government will need to make sure that the UK is not left behind.

Often when it comes to election campaigns, it's the same issues being recycled and addressed. As President Clinton's 1992 strapline stated, invariably "it's the economy, stupid" and it's true that technology has played a backseat so far - it's not necessarily seen as a vote winner. But technology will play a role in most aspects of policy implementation. The next government will have to make decisions that take this into account, as the UK increasingly becomes a digital society.