Policies touching IT are scattered throughout the three main party manifestos released over the last two weeks, but what does the small print actually say? And what impact, if any, will it have on the industry?
A page on civil liberties in the Liberal Democrat manifesto pledges to "review the impact on the electronic commerce industry of Labour's Regulation of Investigatory Powers [RIP] Act", the web-tapping law passed with much acrimony last year.
In a chapter called Town and Country, the Conservative Party says it will introduce a benefit card to cut social security fraud. Sound familiar? Labour cancelled the original benefit card project in 1999 after its initial launch by the Tories in 1995.
The principal IT policies separating the two main parties are on tax, where the Tories pledge to repeal "the notorious IR35, which has driven away from Britain some of our most productive workers".
But the contractors who lost profits through this change might note the following sentence: "We will replace it with targeted anti-avoidance measures." However, other IT workers may be cheered by £100m for tax relief on approved share options.
The much longer Labour manifesto contains more than a dozen references to computing (many previously announced), which if nothing else suggest that public sector IT sales will remain healthy.
The e-government pledge
Take international development, where Labour's education programme will "use IT to ensure effective teacher training and education management". Or local councils, where "electronic service delivery offers the prospect of greater convenience, access and quality". Labour's pledge of making state services available electronically by 2005 remains in place across government.
In the NHS, "we will give every citizen a personal smart card containing key medical data giving access to medical records". You can use your good health to enjoy Culture On-line, a website offering access to museums and galleries.
This could perhaps save you from having to use Transport Direct, "a phone and internet service designed to plan journeys and sell tickets", which may or may not integrate with existing ecommerce ticket sellers such as Thetrainline.com.
Computing gets its meatiest coverage from Labour in education and training. IT gets parity with English, maths and science in a pledge on education for 11 to 14 year-olds, and with numeracy, literacy and presentation for New Deal job-seekers, with all New Dealers getting IT training.
A previously announced promise to set up 6000 IT learning centres is repeated, as is a scheme allowing teachers to buy subsidised PCs. The manifesto floats the idea of a national leasing scheme "to make top-quality hardware available at the very lowest prices". Curriculum Online will place learning materials on the web for school and home use.
Computers for schools
The manifesto claims that 20,000 schools are connected to the internet, and that Labour is committed to spending £1.8bn over six years on school computing. "IT has enormous potential to raise standards, and it is vital that every child leaves school able to make use of the new technologies," it reads.
However, there is no mention of the problems that have dogged this government's record on IT, such as RIP or IR35. And the slow development of broadband web access gets merely the response that Labour "will work to ensure that broadband is accessible in all parts of the country". No dates, no numbers.
And, lurking at the end of a section on crime is a promise to "take measures to tackle the problem of child pornography on the internet". The Tories make a similar pledge "to protect children from paedophiles who use internet chat rooms".
Fine in principle, but the heavy-handedness of crime measures in this parliament, like RIP or the recent bracketing of computer security staff with night club bouncers in need of registration, has seriously damaged this government's reputation with the IT industry.
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