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Policymakers must adopt the Tech Manifesto

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‘Whoever forms the next government will have no choice but to put technology at the heart of it.’ So said Nadhim Zahawi MP yesterday, and he’s right.

Over the last few years policymakers have woken up to the fact that the digital economy forms an increasingly significant part of the economy overall, and that digital government can reshape the relationship between citizen and state while reducing costs.

Many of the low hanging fruit have been taken: we’ve seen the creation of the excellent Government Digital Service (if you haven’t already, read their design principles), SEIS and EIS tax reliefs for investment in early stage companies, funding for broadband, changes to the school curriculum, and plenty more.

The Liberal Democrats Manifesto: what does it mean for UK tech?

And because of this, policymakers from across the political spectrum are looking for ideas of where to go next. Labour are running a series of policy reviews (including one on digital government), and advisers at No10 were rumoured to be thinking about what could go in a Digital Growth Bill, although it sadly didn’t make the cut at yesterday’s Queen’s Speech.

Yesterday did however see the publication of a Technology Manifesto by leading think tank Policy Exchange. I highly recommend it, as it represents the best recent effort to set out a vision for how policymakers should respond to the opportunities and risks of technological progress.

It sets out 33 policy recommendations across a range of themes. Some of these are fairly straightforward, such as ambitious new targets for digital skills and broadband coverage.

Others though are more radical – for example, the manifesto calls for government to fully embrace the Government as a Platform model. They suggest that government offers electronic proofs (no more need to find a paper gas bill to prove your address) and expose APIs for all government services.

Both private and public sector would benefit from secure online identity assurance, while APIs would unlock innovation by allowing developers could create apps able to communicate with government systems. It’s easy to imagine everything from much simpler tax filing to Opentable-style system for booking doctors appointments.

With less than a year to go until the next UK general elections, we need to ensure that there are plenty of voices contributing to the debate about the future of tech policy. At Coadec, we’re playing our part and are working with startups on a Startup Manifesto to be published later this year.

But it takes a lot to go from a think tank report to government policy. As Chi Onwurah MP observed yesterday, at the last general election the content lobby was much more powerful than the tech lobby – a visit to the set of Harry Potter was more appealing to most MPs than a trip to a server farm.

This needs to change, but Policy Exchange’s Tech Manifesto represents a good start. Go and read it now.

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