Conservatives promise 100Mbps in tech manifesto

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The Conservative Party has unveiled the techie side of its election manifesto, promising 100Mbps broadband, a moratorium on big IT projects and open access to government data.

The Conservatives have long included IT elements in their promises, saying they will - if elected - end the ID card scheme and cut down the massive NHS IT project.

While neither of those issues were directly addressed in the Conservative Technology Manifesto, the party did look to take on Labour's Digital Economy Bill, most notably by promising to be the first European country to offer 100Mbps connections to "most" citizens.

While that's much more ambitious than the 2Mbps by 2012 promised by Labour, it's still a vague promise, offering no definition to what "most" means or when exactly roll out would be completed.

There would be no initial government funding for this, with the Tories favoring private sector investment, encouraged by opening up network infrastructure - as in, BT's networks - and "easing rules". If that doesn't provide enough cash, the party will "consider" using funds from the BBC licence fee for loans.

Investment and skills

The Tories also promised to keep R&D tax credits, but focus on high tech companies, small businesses and new start ups, in order to "stimulate a new wave of technology."

The skills for this new wave will be provided by 12 new tech academies. Top science and tech graduates will be encouraged to consider teaching their subjects by having their student loans repaid and salaries given a boost.

Big projects

The Conservatives promised to open up public sector procurement to SMBs and new start-ups, rather than hand 90 per cent of bids to just nine companies, as Labour has done.

"To ensure that high tech small businesses are not locked out of the IT procurement process, a Conservative government will also introduce a presumption against government IT contracts worth over 100 million," the report reads. "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."

This will include an in-house development team to offer unbiased advice, a focus on open standards to allow open source firms to compete, as well as a "presumption against government IT contracts worth over 100 million."

With a nod to big projects like the NHS IT programme, the Conservatives 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."

Open data

If elected, the Tories would follow the lead of Barack Obama in the US by creating a "Right to Government Data" - meaning the public can request any data sets. The manifesto claimed this would also create 6 billion in "additional value" for the UK, by driving the creation of applications and services.

The Conservatives would also force certain information online, including pay rates for top civil servants and details on contracts over 25,000.

On top of this, the document promises a new parliamentary programme called Public Reading Stage. Details were scarce, but it promises to "involve the public in the legislative process and harness the wisdom of crowds to improve legislation and spot potential problems before a bill is implemented."