Technology will be a prominent fixture on the agendas of the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour ahead of the General Election in May.
This was evident at the Big Digital Debate hosted by TechUK and attended by V3, where MPs from the three major parties explained their positions on key areas of Britain's technology industry.
There was general consensus about the importance of technology to the UK economy and wider society, but the MPs differed in their proposed approaches to some key areas affecting the industry.
Government Digital Services
The three party representatives all praised the Government Digital Services (GDS) for spearheading digital integration and change across the public sector.
Ed Vaizey (pictured), minister of state for culture and the digital economy, understandably praised GDS and declared its leader, outgoing Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, as an unsung hero of the current government.
"I think we have led the way with GDS in providing the digital platform for citizens to interact with government, which is now actually being copied by the US and Australia among other countries," said Vaizey.
However, Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for digital government with Labour, said GDS did not do enough beyond central government.
"GDS has done fantastic things, but it's been very focused on central government and what we need is a platform that goes across central and local government to ensure that people experience digital services through local government and that it's all up to the same standard."
Vaizey said the GDS does has an ambition to work with local government but it's a complex transistion and could not be rushed.
"You've got this concept of government-as-a-platform where we have already saved hundreds of millions of pounds by crunching together government websites and providing a gateway to government services," he said.
Another issue Onwurah rasied was the need to ensure the GDS gives people control over their data, rather than confining it to public service use.
This was supported by Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert: "The open source and open data aspects are also really important. We need to go ahead with things like Met Office OS and Post Code Address File data," he said.
Huppert added that investing in open data will help the UK economy generate more revenue, but that this has not yet been realised.
UK-wide access to the internet and digital skills form core parts of Labour's technology agenda.
"We'll put digital inclusion at the heart of what we are doing in terms of digital government and more broadly," said Onwurah (pictured), who criticised the government's superfast broadband initiative for failing to achieve inclusion.
"We committed to universal broadband and this government is now three years behind with the rollout," she said.
"We are still in a positon where so many people can't get online. This government has not done what it needed to ensure that countries and communities benefit from digital. So that is what we want to change."
Huppert echoed Onwurah's views. "Inclusion has to be at the core of what we're trying to do. We have to make sure the benefits reach out to everybody. If we have an unequal system, we'll merely perpetuate the existing problems," he said.
"So that means getting many more women into technology. Coding for all, skills for all, connectivity for all, whatever age, whatever gender, whatever location."
Vaizey's response was to cite the rural walk-in centres for farmers who want help getting online as one of the government's initiatives for digital inclusion. He also said asked how how you quantify how someone is 'digitally excluded'.
"Sometimes this debate can become: would you like to talk to your grandchildren on Facebook? It's much more complex and sophisticated than that."
The UK's healthy start-up sector was also brought up at the event. Onwurah is keen for the next government to take the success of London's Tech City beyond the capital: "We need to get the brand of Tech City more national, and to support the clusters [across the UK]," she said.
Huppert added that the Liberals would like British start-ups to have investor support that encourages innovation even if the risk of failure is high.
"We should make it a low-risk environment to try high-risk things. Try something, fail and move on to the next thing," he said.
Huppert also wants to bring in skills from Europe to fuel the UK technology start-up scene. "It is absurd to try to clamp down on people with very specialist skills coming here and contributing to our economy," he said.
Vaizey agreed on the need to attract skilled entrepreneurs to Britain, but said that the government is looking encourage start-ups to pursue initial public offerings in the UK rather than the US.
The government aims to achieve this by focusing on start-ups in the financial technology (Fintech) sector.
"We have encouraged Fintech companies to form a trade association, because we want the voice of Fintech to talk to government so we can help grow Fintech business," said Vaizey.
He added that the next government will champion tax breaks for mid-sized technology companies to encourage growth too.
Data privacy was one of the more controversial aspects of the event, causing disagreement between the coalition MPs.
Huppert (pictured) warned that David Cameron's controversial ambitions to give security agencies access to private messages would be "catastrophic" for UK businesses.
"We need to make sure we don't do anything daft that drives the rest of the world away, which is why the prime minister's desire to have backdoors in technology would absolutely slam doors around the world to a huge amount of exports," he explained.
Vaizey defended Cameron, though, saying that the technology industry needs to meet politicians half way on privacy matters.
"The prime minister is entitled to say: 'We have a very sophisticated technology industry and encryption and so on. On one hand I want to promote those industries and I want a successful technology economy,'" said Vaizey.
"'But I also have a duty as prime minister to keep our citizens as safe as possible. And we need to meet somewhere in the middle and talk about this.'
"You've got to have a grown-up conversation between the technology industry that is rapidly changing the way we lead our lives and go about our business."
'Commitment and urgency'
Following the debate, V3 spoke to Antony Walker (pictured), deputy chief executive at TechUK to see what he thought.
He said it was positive to see three tech-savvy MPs recognising the importance of the UK's technology industry.
However, he explained that politicians need to be more proactive in addressing issues that affect the industry, and that the real measurement of their commitment will follow the election.
"There was lots of consensus but what I didn't hear was enough urgency about the really big issues that have a big impact," said Walker.
"What really matters is what happens when any of them get into power, and the extent to which they recognise the fundamental nature of technology in terms of the big issues around productivity, growth and job creation."
TechUK recently outlined its own manifesto which won the support of the three main parties.
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