Conservatives stress need for speed

In the second part of our Tech election 2010 series, the Conservative Party tells ZDNet UK about the tech policies it will push and policies it will drop if it wins the general election
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The Conservative Party has revealed which government IT projects it will drop or change if it takes power, and how it will balance citizens' privacy against commercial interests, among other issues.

The interview is part of ZDNet UK's Tech election 2010 series, where we ask the nation's parties to outline their technology policies in the run-up to the May general election.

We asked each party to outline its stance on the same range of topics. An extra question was added for each of the major three: Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

The Conservatives, who are looking to gain power for the first time in 13 years, want to break up big government IT contracts and ensure high-speed broadband for most of the UK. In today's interview, a spokesperson for the party outlines what the tech industry can expect if the Conservatives are voted back into office.

Q: What would your party do to promote and strengthen the UK technology industry?
A: Our key aim for the digital economy is to make Britain the first major European country to have super-fast broadband in a majority of homes by 2017.

What is your long-term strategy for the digital economy?
Firstly, we will force BT to open up access to its underground ducts and overhead telegraph poles. This will allow other internet service providers to lay cable at much lower costs, and encourage the rollout of broadband across much larger parts of the UK. Greater competition in the market will, we envisage, lead to rollout of broadband across the areas of the country where BT has failed to lay fibre.

A Tory government will force BT to open up access to its underground ducts and overhead telegraph poles.

We will also look at the case for changing business rates to ensure that no disadvantages to new market entrants remain in place and look at the case for opening up other utility infrastructure so that broadband can be delivered through sewers or over electricity pylons.

We recognise, however, that the market alone will not provide to the whole country — in particular rural and remote locations where it is not commercially viable to lay fibre. That is why we have said that we will use the portion of the licence fee currently set aside for digital switchover to fund broadband rollout where the market has failed to do so. This fund will be allocated in innovative ways — for example, match funding and low-interest loans — to ensure that as much of the country as possible can access super-fast broadband by 2017.

This will ensure that small and medium-sized businesses outside of our major cities will have the digital infrastructure needed to compete in a digital world. Such businesses are often the lifeblood of local communities, and our plans will protect these businesses and the vital jobs that they support.

What role should technology play in government transparency and interaction with the public?
As we've laid out in our technology manifesto, we will publish online every item of central government and quango spending over £25,000, including every contract in full. We will also publish online all government tender documents for contracts worth over £10,000 via the existing Supply2Gov website.

This will create new jobs by opening up government procurement to more SMEs. We will also publish online every item of local government spending over £500, including every contract in full.

David Cameron photo

Conservative Party leader David Cameron visits The Royal Marsden Hospital in London Credit: Andrew Parsons

We will legislate to enforce the freedom of government data. We will create a powerful new 'right to government data', enabling the public to request and receive government datasets. This will radically increase the amount of government data released and will provide a multi-billion pound boost to the UK economy.

What role should open-source software play in local and national government use, and what would you do to promote its use over that of proprietary software?
We will create a level playing field for open-source IT by implementing open standards across government IT systems. Open standards will also enable large contracts to be broken into small modular components, so reducing risk and enabling more small businesses to bid for government IT contracts.

How would you balance citizens' online privacy against protecting commercial interests? The cases of Phorm and the Digital Economy Bill's copyright clauses are relevant to this question.
Online piracy is a big problem, and it needs to be tackled. We welcome the government's attempts to rectify illegal online activity in the Digital Economy Bill.

While we are happy to consider the use of technical measures against the most extreme offenders, we believe...

...this should be a last resort, and as such we successfully pushed the government into ensuring letter writing and other measures are given a chance to work before any other means are implemented.

Conservatives advocate the use of more educational programmes in schools and among the general public to educate people on the wrongs of illegal downloading.

What is your e-health policy, and will it include contracting patient data out to third parties?
We want patients to have greater control over their health records. This can lead to significant benefits. It can empower patients, allowing them to share information with third parties if they choose to do so.

Which major government IT projects would you drop or change, and why?
A Conservative government will impose an immediate moratorium on planned IT procurement projects in order to evaluate upcoming projects and ensure that small businesses and open-source IT providers are not locked out of the bidding process. We will also introduce a presumption against government IT contracts worth over £100m. These policies will not only save costs, but will also help to catalyse the growth of the next generation of high-tech British IT companies.

We will impose an moratorium on planned IT procurement projects. 

What measures would you put in place to ensure that businesses and organisations better protect their customers' data and inform customers of data breaches?
We have pushed the government to introduce financial penalties for serious breaches of data protection law. We would also task the information commissioner to carry out a consultation with the private sector, with a view to establishing guidance on data security, including examining the viability of introducing an industry-wide kitemark system of best practice.

What is your policy on new or existing measures to protect the critical national infrastructure?
To protect our digital infrastructure we will set up a Cyber Threat and Assessment Centre. This will build on the Cyber Security Operations Centre to provide Britain with a common operating picture, threat assessment and awareness of the international situation.

How would you pay for getting out of the ID card scheme?
We have written to the ID card contractors twice to warn them that we would immediately scrap the ID card scheme. Cancelling ID cards will save money, not cost money.

Editorial standards