Each party has filled their manifestos with a variety of initiatives and extravagant promises to boost IT and tech across a range of sectors, within public services and beyond. As we edge ever-closer to the general election, what exactly does each party claim to have in store for IT professionals in the UK?
David Cameron has made a number of references towards supporting the UK's burgeoning digital economy - notably of benefit to entrepreneurs and startups - in the Tory Manifesto, which certainly demonstrates a positive nod of recognition for the sector. He highlighted tech startups as something the UK should be proud of, saying, "More tech companies are starting up here than anywhere else in Europe." It is also pleasing to see their Manifesto specifically mention fintech, with the current government promising to "back the financial technology revolution."
The Conservatives also pledge to make the UK the "best place in Europe to innovate, patent new ideas and set up and expand a business" as well as "make Britain the technology centre of Europe". Of course, as with any Manifesto, there is a lack of detail at this stage as to how this will be achieved, but the encouragement of small business innovation in the tech sector is promising if somewhat vague.
While the Labour Manifesto touches on a number of key elements of the technology sector, such as support for startups and improved broadband access, going as far as promising to "ensure that all parts of the country benefit from affordable, high-speed broadband by the end of the parliament", for example, is perhaps ambiguous.
There is also some scepticism within the IT contracting sector that Labour does not always understand the importance of contractors to tech startups and associated projects. There is an ever-growing demand for digital tech specialists, and with the current skills shortage in the IT sector, more and more employers are turning to skilled contractors to ensure work levels are maintained. Contractors play a critical role in the success of UK businesses and the next government needs to ensure it doesn't curb this enthusiasm with the extension of tax restrictions on contractors. With that in mind, Labour needs to ensure it makes the distinction between 'disguised employment' and the dynamism and fluidity of the IT contracting market. There is some scepticism within IT contracting that Labour does not always understand the importance of contractors to the economy.
The Lib Dems have promised the UK that they will 'secure global leadership in technology', by bolstering technology skills, overseeing superfast broadband rollouts, supporting startups and digitalising the public sector. They acknowledge that tech companies are driving UK economic success, growing at a rate of over 10 per cent a year, and have committed to build on the success of London's Tech City in order to support fast-growing businesses.
It is essential that political parties recognise the importance of businesses having the right skills and professional expertise, to maximise tech's ultimate potential for the future economy. The Lib Dems' plans are going in the right direction towards achieving this, with the party having laid down plans to double innovation spending, expand digital-by-default approaches to public services, support fast-growing tech 'scale-ups', and develop the UK's regional strengths in technology. This latter point is particularly important - to ensure a boost to the digital economy is made across the entire country, the government must devolve powers and responsibilities in a way which allows local councils to make the necessary changes and pass legislations relevant to the area's skills shortage.
Despite being vague on how exactly they will provide this support, the party recognises the value in the sector and promises to provide more funding for innovation and technology centres in the UK to support smaller organisations.
Technology took more of a back seat role in Nigel Farage's manifesto on Wednesday, in the shadow of his counterparts. Interestingly, there are very few specific technology policies to analyse, but he did reveal how the party's immigration and energy policies might impact the tech industry on a wider scale.
If UKIP were to be voted into parliament, they have said they would withdraw from the EU, close the loopholes that allow multi-national technology companies operating in the UK to avoid corporate tax, and implement an "Australian-style" points system for skilled workers, limited to 50,000 migrants per year.
This particular policy could potentially limit the pool of talent available to IT companies, which is already in short supply and creating a war for talent. In relation to the skills gap, UKIP has also promised to increase the number of professional/career courses for students and has said it would abolish tuition fees for some technical degrees, to encourage young people into the industry, which is a great incentive to direct students to degrees that will be of an immediate benefit to the economy and where there is a skills shortage.
Each party has this week outlined some key policies in the interest of the UK digital economy and IT professionals across the country. Each has their individual strengths and flaws, but overall it is pleasing to see the issue being addressed and not completely ignored. It is however hard to see past each leader's promises as being any more than just different versions of the same trends and promises we have seen over the last five years. There are many more things we could do to ensure the UK keeps pace with the rest of the world, and this should start with politicians being better educated about the opportunity that technology offers, allowing them to make informed changes to fundamentally enhance the future UK economy for the better.