Whilst we may all be feeling election fatigue, we still have several days of bitter, nationalist electioneering from more parties than we have ever had to choose from in the UK.
Do any of the parties come up with anything radically new? No. Technology does not seem to be high on many parties lists of priorities – but you decide who gets your vote come 7th May.
Of the top three, Labour mention ‘a longer term approach to drive innovation’, advocating continued advancement in digital and manufacturing technologies as a way to help business.
The Conservatives promise to have 95% of the country covered by superfast broadband by 2017, along with 90% of UK landmass covered by voice and SMS coverage by 2017, and the Lib Dem manifesto contains a section called ‘securing global leadership in technology’.
Here they highlight the competitive advantage that the UK has in key digital sectors and the need to support this area of the economy and that 15% of new companies last year were digital companies. They also state that the digital sector in the UK currently employs around 1.5 million people.
The UKIP manifesto is light on any mention of technology. However in the Education section they have a paragraph stating “to increase the uptake of science learning at secondary level, we will follow the recommendations of the Campaign for Science and Engineering and require every primary school to nominate a science leader to inspire and equip the next generation.”
The Green Party manifesto also has a small section on science and technology. Although technology is mentioned, it is not directly detailed in the policies, which include the free publication of all publicly funded research, preventing the patenting of genes and living organisms, and conducting research ethically.
The SNP talk about research and creativity, pointing out the technology and innovation are central to economic growth across Europe. They support increases in R&D financial ceilings that will allow large scale EU projects to go forward. Plaid Cymru are keen to develop a new manufacturing strategy for Wales, which will take advantage of the existing skills, helped by research and development.
They also highlight the need for children to understand the technology around them, through coding and advanced computer technology development lessons, such as the Raspberry Pi device.
The key messages from most parties regarding technology are focused on education: by educating the next generation of innovators, we can ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of invention and innovation. But, none explain how these advances will be funded and or seem to understand the impact of the digital economy on Britain.
Much like cuts in defence, which we will leave the UK, sooner than you think, no longer a superpower on the world stage, it’s unlikely that we will compete in technology, science or the digital economy. In 2012, £10.0 billion was spent on Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) by the UK Government, a 1% decrease compared with 2011, and continued the downward trend in SET expenditure since 2009.
In comparison, by pouring cash into science and technology faster than its economy has expanded, China has for the first time overtaken Europe on a key measure of innovation: the share of its economy devoted to research and development (R&D). In 2012, China invested 1.98% of its gross domestic product (GDP) into R&D — just edging out the 28 member states of the European Union (EU), which together managed 1.96% according to OECD.
Meanwhile the ranking of EU Countries by download speed (EU Average 16.80Mbps) puts the UK twelfth below Lithuania, Netherlands, Sweden, Romania and Portugal. Why? Because many of them have more advanced fibre optic networks in the ground. However, we still come ahead of Germany (13), France (18) and Spain (21) but this is likely to change in the near future as for example, France has committed 20bn Euros to build a national fibre network.
In comparison, that’s 20 times less the equivalent Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) spend, as the Government is investing just over £1 billion in improving broadband and mobile infrastructure to provide basic broadband (2Mbps) for all by 2016 and superfast broadband to 95% of the UK by 2017.
Can the UK really compete when no party appears to understand the importance of technology to the UK economy to dedicate pages rather than mere paragraphs in their manifestos with estimated budgets? The parties need to clearly lay out how they propose to develop the UK as a technological innovator and leader today and into the future.
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