UK election: Five tech issues that should be in every manifesto

A photo of a polling station sign placed on a wall between two blurred flags of the United Kingdom
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This year is being described as ‘the election year’, with more people voting in elections in 2024 than any other year in history. That includes those of us in the UK, although we still haven’t quite figured out when we’d like to have it.

That means, right now, policy wonks are putting the finishing touches to their political party’s manifesto, which will set out the key policies they will pursue should they get elected.

Traditionally, tech rarely gets much mention in these documents, and I’m not expecting there to be much on display this time around, either. It’s somewhat understandable: tech policy isn’t exactly a big vote-winner.

But the lack of reference to technology in these manifestos is a symptom of a wider problem. The political classes have consistently underestimated the potential impact of technology. That means, as a nation, we are more exposed to risks and less open to opportunities than we really should be.

So, just in case there’s still a few blank pages left in any of those manifestos, I’ve taken the opportunity to outline some of the basic tech issues facing the country – something every political party should really be thinking about.

1. Skills, skills, skills

The UK has an enormous, mind-blowing, tech skills shortage. Nearly every other tech-policy related problem we have is a consequence of that one issue.

Cyber security is probably the best known crisis zone, with tens of thousands of hard-to-fill vacancies every year.

This has real world consequences: organisations that cannot fill these roles are inevitably more at risk of catastrophic breaches. There are similar problems elsewhere; in data science the demand (100,000 open roles or more) vastly outstrips the supply of skilled graduates from universities (about 10,000 per year). And that’s before you add in new demand for AI skills.

We need a revolution in the provision of science, technology, engineering and maths graduates, and should be framed as a matter of both economic and national security.

2. Connectivity = opportunities

A tech business can be anywhere; all you need is a laptop and an internet connection. And yet, too many tech businesses are still based in the south east of England, or in a few big cities.

We need to make sure that opportunities are as equally spread as the talent is. Skills are a key part of this, but so is building up the entrepreneurial connectivity within regions, whether that’s matching up businesses with local universities or providing early funding to startups.

3. AI is not going away

When politicians are asked how they will pay for a new policy, they’ll usually mention something vague about using tech to boost efficiency and save money. With AI, that might actually be true, but they need to be careful what they wish for.

AI really could create enormous cost savings for government by automating many of the bureaucratic tasks that make up a lot of our interactions between citizens and public services. That’s great for saving money.

But what does that mean for public sector jobs? In the long run, it's plausible that AI may create more jobs than it destroys, but there’s no guarantee that the people that lose their jobs as a result of AI will be the ones to get the new jobs. We know that industrial revolutions of this kind do create mass unemployment and, for many, that transition is painful.

Governments have done a terrible job of managing these structural changes in the past, as the north of England in particular can attest. The government needs to do better next time around, and ‘next time’ could sooner than we think.

4. Get serious about cyber security

Ransomware continues to claim high-profile victims, with critical infrastructure like education and local government particularly vulnerable. Often these organisations are the least well equipped to deal with a cyber attack (both in terms of skills and budgets), but are nevertheless essential to the basic functions of our society.

We’re unlikely to be able to stop the attacks, and banning the payment of ransoms is, at best, complicated. In which case, more needs to be done to help secure these essential services, whether that’s ring-fenced funding or providing more expertise and support.

The government needs to spend more of its energy encouraging smaller businesses to take security seriously. Big businesses are, for the most part, already doing a decent job of protecting themselves. In contrast, small businesses often feel they don’t have the luxury of spending money on preparing for an attack that may never come. Yet, those small businesses are often used as a stepping stone in bigger supply chain attacks aimed at their customers or clients who might be much more lucrative targets for hackers. Simply put, protecting the smallest companies helps keep everyone else secure.

5. STEM experience matters

Perhaps most importantly, we need many more people with experience in tech, science, engineering, and maths making their way into politics.

The intellectual gene pool for MPs is extremely limited, with many coming from finance, law, public affairs, and politics. This is not to caricature all MPs: I’ve known MPs with a deep understanding of tech issues who have worked hard to make sure that policy and investments are done right.

But we need a more representative and diverse parliament in all sorts of ways, and adding more people who understand the importance and the limitations of technology is one vital step. Many of the big challenges the next government will face will have a tech dimension; if the people at the top don’t understand that, they will limit their own options to respond.

Having a good and rigorous policy around technology isn’t going to get any one party elected, but a failure to address these issues now could be the reason they are eventually booted out from office.

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Steve Ranger

Steve Ranger is an award-winning reporter and editor who writes about technology and business. Previously he was the editorial director at ZDNET and the editor of