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Lib Dem manifesto launch: All the tech pledges unveiled

Labour IT projects axed, tech spending cuts and an eye on cybercrime...
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Written by Nick Heath on

Labour IT projects axed, tech spending cuts and an eye on cybercrime...

The Liberal Democrats were the last of the three main political parties to reveal how they would boost technology if elected to government with the release of their manifesto yesterday.

The key message was that a Lib Dem administration would axe many of the flagship IT projects of the previous Labour government, such as ID cards and the Intercept Modernisation Programme, in order to save billions of pounds of public money.

The proposals are:

Broadband

According to the manifesto, a Liberal Democrat government would use public money to support the rollout of superfast broadband across the UK.

The Lib Dems told silicon.com it's vital that superfast broadband is made available across the country. However, the manifesto stops short of detailing the speed of a future superfast broadband network, how it would be delivered or specifying a timetable for when widespread access would be in place.

The manifesto says the Lib Dems would use government money to support superfast broadband, "targeted first at those areas which are least likely to be provided for by the market". This is most likely to be rural areas where the population is too low for telcos to recoup the money spent on new broadband infrastructure.

In a separate briefing the Lib Dems told silicon.com that the party supports the principle of the £6 annual tax on fixed landlines to fund the rollout of superfast broadband, which was proposed by the previous Labour government.

However the Lib Dems believe pensioners and the least well-off members of society should be exempt from having to pay the tax.

nick clegg

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg
(Photo credit: The Liberal Democrats)

Big IT projects

The Lib Dems have pledged to scrap four major IT projects that were undertaken by the last Labour government: the ID cards scheme; the introduction of second-generation biometric passports; the Intercept Modernisation Programme (IMP) to log all telecoms traffic in the UK; and the child protection database ContactPoint.

The party estimates that over the next five years it could save £550m by scrapping ID cards, £1.8bn by scrapping second-generation biometric passports, £800m by scrapping the IMP and £190m by scrapping ContactPoint.

The Lib Dems are the only major party to pledge to ditch plans to start issuing second-generation passports in 2012. These passports would store scans of the holder's fingerprints on an embedded chip, alongside the photo and biographic details already stored on the first-generation biometric passports issued today.

The manifesto describes the IMP as "plans to store your email and internet records without good cause", ID cards and the ContactPoint database as "intrusive" and second-generation biometric passports as "unnecessary".

The manifesto also pledges to remove the DNA profiles of people arrested for, but not convicted of, a crime from the National DNA Database. Under current laws the details of a non-convicted person can be kept on the database for six years.

IT spending

IT spending would be reduced across Whitehall under the Lib Dems as part of a wider package of cuts, which would also trim salaries and pensions.

The manifesto says no central government department would have its budget protected from cuts, adding, however, that frontline health services would not be cut.

Cuts to spending on consultants would save an estimated £735m over the next five years, while funding cuts for government quangos would save an estimated £915m during the same period, according to the manifesto.

The manifesto says the agency overseeing NHS IT, Connecting for Health, would be one of the government quangos that would be cut by a Lib Dem government.

Spending cuts would begin next year and last until 2014, by which point the Lib Dems aim to have halved the national debt.

The way government procures new IT systems would be reviewed and revamped, with a Lib Dem administration exploring how it could make greater use of cloud computing to deliver IT services and open source software packages.

A Lib Dem spokeswoman told silicon.com that open source software should be considered whenever a government body is buying a new software package.

Cybercrime and policing

The manifesto claims savings from measures such as axing ID cards would pay for an extra 3,000 police on the beat.

More mobile technology would also be deployed to frontline police officers to reduce the amount of time spent doing paperwork at the police station.

A party spokeswoman told silicon.com that the Lib Dems would ensure there was "sufficient" funding for the police to tackle cybercrime and that sentences for e-crime offences "reflect the severity of cybercrime".

more police on the beat for lib dems

The Lib Dems claim savings made from axing projects such as ID cards could pay for an extra 3,000 police on the beat
Photo credit: Shutterstock

The party would also ensure that the Crown Prosecution Service made tackling phishing and rogue traders online a "greater priority".

Skills

The Lib Dems told silicon.com that, if elected, the party would expand the Teach First scheme that aims to recruit 500 to 600 of the highest-achieving graduates into teaching each year.

The party believes this would improve how science, technology, engineering and mathematics is taught in schools and universities.

Under the Lib Dems, bursaries would be awarded to students who choose to study topics where there are skills shortages, such as science and mathematics.

The manifesto pledges that a Lib Dem government would create a work placement scheme with up to 800,000 places, which it says would "ensure that young people have the opportunity to gain skills, qualifications and work experience, even if they can't find a job".

Research and development

Start-up businesses would benefit from local enterprise funds and regional stock exchanges being set up to allow investors to put money into supporting local businesses.

The party would take steps to increase the number of women pursuing careers in science while funding for scientific research would be protected so it could not be diverted to fund other measures once allocated by government.

Money for research would also be allocated to projects that were felt to be important by the scientific community and not Whitehall.

The following topics are not mentioned in the manifesto but a Lib Dem spokeswoman told silicon.com that they would be a priority for a Lib Dem administration.

Open government

The Lib Dems would release more information to the public through methods such as extending Freedom of Information legislation so private companies delivering public services, such as Network Rail, would be compelled to release information.

The party would also encourage central government departments and local government bodies to make more public services available online.

In order to improve data regulation, a Lib Dem administration would increase the powers of the Data Protection Act and the privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner's Office.

Online piracy

The Lib Dems oppose the use of technical measures, such as disconnecting people from the internet, where people are suspected of the repeated illegal downloading of copyrighted material online.

The party prefers "soft measures" such as sending correspondence to people informing them that what they are doing is illegal.

The party opposed the recent Digital Economy Bill when it was being considered by Parliament because it felt that measures in the bill, which included the threat of disconnection, had not been given enough consideration. The bill was not subject to the usual amount of parliamentary scrutiny because it was rushed through both houses before Parliament was dissolved last week ahead of the May general election.

NHS

The Lib Dems also told silicon.com the party would change the way the £12.7bn scheme to revamp NHS IT, the National Programme for IT, is run.

According to the party, the project is in a state of "strategic confusion", leading to it running at least four years behind schedule.

A Lib Dem government would also allow hospitals and doctors surgeries greater freedom to choose their own software and systems, while making sure they are connected and interoperable.

Such a strategy would be a departure from the current situation where most health trusts have to accept systems chosen by the Department of Health if they want central funding for IT upgrades.

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