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Conservative tech manifesto: 100Mbps broadband, small IT deals and an app store

Tories' IT pledges in full
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

Tories' IT pledges in full

The Conservatives today unveiled a raft of technology-orientated policies which the party claims are aimed at ensuring that the "next generation of Googles or Microsofts will be British".

The Conservative Technology Manifesto lays out plans to create a 100Mbps broadband network for the UK and to reform government IT with a view to savings billions of pounds.

The proposals were unveiled in London by shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt and shadow minister for the cabinet office Francis Maude.

Speaking at the launch, Maude said: "We want to make the British government the most tech-friendly in the world and to make sure that the next generation of Googles and Microsofts will be British companies."

The proposals in the manifesto are:

Broadband

  • 100Mbps broadband across the UK

    The manifesto proposes the creation of a superfast network, capable of 100Mbps download and upload speeds, "available for most of the population".

    The cost of creating the network, estimated at £29bn by Hunt, will be met largely by the private sector.

    Hunt said the 100Mbps network would create new jobs in the digital and creative industries - highlighting media and special effects companies.

    "We have to avoid areas of traditional strengths, such as financial services, and look for new areas of competitive advantage for the UK," Hunt said.

    The manifesto quotes figures from Nesta (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) that estimate such a network would generate 600,000 additional jobs, adding £18bn to Britain's GDP.

    In South Korea, where broadband speeds of 100Mbps are already common, Hunt said the most common uses of the infrastructure were to deliver TV to mobiles, and online learning and telemedicine to people's homes.

    conservative tech manifesto

    Jeremy Hunt at the launch of the manifesto
    (Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com)

    The manifesto also proposes relaxing regulation to make it easier for companies to get permission to lay network infrastructure.

    Hunt however would not provide a date for when the network would be delivered.

  • Use part of the BBC licence fee to support the rollout of the 100Mbps broadband network
  • Hunt said the Conservatives wanted to take money from the BBC licence fee, which would amount to £120m each year, to pay for the 100Mbps broadband access.

    He said the £120m fund would help pay for the rollout of broadband networks to remote rural areas where it is not commercially viable for the private sector to build the infrastructure, either as a loan or on a match-funding basis.

    The money would come from funds set aside to pay for the switchover of regions from analogue to digital TV.

    According to Hunt, the BBC accepts the proposal "as reasonable".

    While fibre is likely to have an important role in delivering next-gen broadband, Hunt said the Conservatives are also open to alternatives such as WiMax and other mobile technology.

Government IT

The manifesto states that under Labour, just nine IT companies received 60 per cent of public sector IT spending.

Maude said these smaller IT systems will be able to work together as the Tories will ensure all new IT systems are designed to be interoperable.

"This will open up the market to smaller suppliers and stimulate the growth of new and innovative IT companies," he said.

Talking about the wastage under the current government, Maude said the UK has spent £108bn on IT over the past eight years, which works out as more per capita than any other country in Europe.

"We are spending Chelsea FC money but we are heading towards relegation in terms of delivery," he said.

  • Government IT systems will be built around open standards that will allow them to work together
  • The creation of a government application store
    Maude said that a central store of common software applications would be created, enabling apps to be reused across government departments rather than having each department buying its own software.

    This is similar to an idea already underway to create a government application store to run on a private cloud for government called the G-Cloud.

  • Create an IT development team within government
    A "skunkworks" team would be created inhouse to create low-cost applications and advise on the procurement of IT projects.

  • A stronger role for the government CIO
    The government CIO will have powers to set government-wide policies in areas, such as open standards when building systems and open data where recording information.

    Maude gave an example of the CIO mandating that a government department would not be able to start building a new IT system from scratch without checking what applications used elsewhere in government could be reused.

  • When buying new government IT systems, existing low-cost solutions must be considered before looking at building bespoke systems

  • IT projects must be procured more quickly
    Maude said it takes an average of 77 weeks to complete the procurement process for a government contract in Britain, compared to 40 in Germany.

    "Suppliers say that it can cost three or four times as much to bid for government contracts in Britain as in the rest of Europe," he said.

  • All planned IT projects will be halted to allow them to be evaluated to ensure that the bidding process is fair to open source and small suppliers

  • Private sector employees will be appointed as non-executive board members to central government departments
    Any department where IT plays a significant role in delivering services will have at least one non-executive board member with strong IT expertise.


    Open data

    • All government gateway reviews - internal reviews of whether a proposed government project is likely to be successful - will be published online

  • Every central government and Quango contract for goods and services worth more than £25,000 will be published in full online from January 2011

  • A right to government data will be created that will allow the public to request and receive data collected by government
    This is broadly similar to an arrangement that already exists where the public can request that government provides links to data it holds through the data.gov.uk website.

    Maude also said all government gateway reviews - internal reviews of whether a proposed government project is likely to be successful - will be published online.

  • The public will be consulted online about every new bill that passes through Parliament, giving them a chance to influence new legislation

  • Monthly online publication of local crime data on a street-by-street basis, education and health performance data and detailed information about all of Department for International Development's projects and spending programmes

  • Online publication of the energy consumption of all buildings in Whitehall

  • Online publication of the details of every UK project that receives more than £25,000 in EU funds - including the project goals and the region that the project will benefit

  • Online publication of all procurement tender documents for contracts worth more than £10,000
    The Conservatives say this will make it even easier for small businesses to bid to provide government contracts.

  • Every item of local government spending of more than £500 will be published - including every contract in full
    Every senior civil servant within a local authority that earns more than £60,000 will also have their name and salary published online.

    Local authorities will also be required to publish the details of councillors' expenses online.

  • Names and salaries of all central government and Quango managers earning more than £150,000 per year will be published online
    Salaries and expense claims of the 35,000 most senior civil servants, as well as any meetings they have with lobbyists, will be published online.

  • Credit card providers will be required to email customers a file containing information on pricing and usage that can be uploaded to third-party price comparison websites - with a view to helping consumers to avoid being ripped off

    Skills and industry

    • Research and development tax credits will be simpler to apply for and targeted towards helping high-tech companies, small businesses and new start-ups.

  • New technical academies will be created in each of the 12 biggest cities in England
    In the long term the manifesto says the ambition will be to create an academy in each area of the country.

  • Top graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths will be encouraged to become teachers through incentives such as paying off their student loans and more attractive salaries

  • Guaranteed funding for science research over multiple years to provide more stable investment for scientific research


    Conservatives back the disconnection of people illegally downloading copyrighted material from the web, he said.

    "It is not the business of government to protect the current business models," Hunt said.

    "But I do believe that we have a responsibility to make sure that people who wish to buy and sell intellectual digital property online are free to do so."

    Hunt said the Conservatives are working to clarify amendment 120a that the party has suggested to the Digital Economy Bill.

    Under this proposal the courts would be able to provide injunctions ordering ISPs to block access to sites that provide access to copyright-infringing content.

    The proposal has been criticised for the fact that it could be used to block access to sites such as YouTube, where users are able to upload content including copyright infringing material.

    "We want to make sure that it does not have the effect of lots of websites being blocked without a court order.

    "The intended effect of the amendment is instead to block access to sites like Pirate Bay by getting a court order," Hunt said.

    Green tech

    • A high speed rail line connecting London and Heathrow with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, would start being built in 2015

  • Smart meters will be installed in every home and a smart energy grid will be built that will enable more renewable technologies to be used
    The grid would allow electricity providers to tap into smart meters installed in people's homes to allow them to match supply to demand, allowing for greater use of renewable power generation.

    Networks of marine energy parks would also be created and the development and deployment of carbon capture and storage technology, that captures CO2 emissions from power stations, would be accelerated.

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