The General Election is just over a month away and parliament has now been disbanded, meaning that MPs across the country are canvassing for votes and hoping to gain a seat in the House of Commons.
Whichever party wins will have five years to shape the future of the country, and technology strategies and policies will be a key area as the sector becomes ever more important to the economic and social future of the UK.
V3 has put together a run-down of some of the key technology topics and areas that will require careful consideration by any incoming party.
1. Boost broadband access and speeds
The past five years has seen huge efforts made to improve the broadband infrastructure of the UK, with over two million homes passed by fibre broadband thanks to the government's Broadband Delivery UK scheme.
Furthermore, the average broadband speed in the UK has more than quadrupled from 5.2Mbps in May 2010 to 22.8Mbps in February this year.
However, there is still much to be done. Vast areas of the country are still without services, and the government’s universal service commitment of 2Mbps, which seemed too slow even in 2010, now seems even more out of touch.
The next government must put time, effort and money into ensuring that the entire country, not 95 percent or 98 percent, can access good, stable broadband connections at a speed ideally above 10Mbps.
There should also be a new focus on download speeds, as the current average is a paltry 3Mbps, which will not be enough to support firms that increasingly have to send large files to cloud services or other firms over the internet.
2. Enhance mobile phone coverage
Widespread mobile phone coverage still remains a key area. The coalition can boast a last-minute triumph when it got operators to agree to a £5bn network improvement strategy for 2017, having threatened them with national roaming to force them to take the problem seriously.
However, this spending, despite sounding impressive, will still provide voice coverage to only 90 percent of the UK by 2017. This leaves 10 percent going without. This cannot remain. By 2020 the notion that you can’t get a mobile phone signal anywhere in the UK should be a thing of the past.
3. Manage spectrum and monitor 5G developments
The next five years will see the amount of mobile data on networks rocket. This means that the management of spectrum is vital for the future of the UK. Ofcom is already doing lots of work to free up as much as it can and allow firms to use unlicensed spectrum wherever feasible.
The next government must promote this work and ensure that industry remains committed to a common goal of spectrum sharing to support this growth.
Another key issue will be ensuring that the development of 5G services is given ample funding, building on the £35m already handed to the University of Surrey, and that by 2020 (when the next General Election will loom) the UK is ready for auctions and rollouts, not waylaid by legal headaches, as 4G was.
4. Continue G-Cloud growth
The G-Cloud project passed the £500m sales milestone last month, a handy figure for the coalition to tout about its digital strategy successes.
But there is plenty more to do, and ensuring that the public sector embraces cloud to achieve cost savings and efficiencies is vital as uptake outside central government is not growing as quickly as many in Whitehall had hoped.
This work must also ensure that SMEs on the platform remain a core part of its remit, so they are not muscled out by larger enterprises that once again come to dominate IT deals with government departments.
5. Continue to digitise government services
More broadly, the past five years has seen huge strides by the government to make as many services as possible available on digital platforms in a bid to modernise the public’s interaction with government.
This has seen the Government Digital Service (GDS) consolidate the disparate array of websites owned and run by the government into one single Gov.uk platform which has, in the main, proved a huge success.
However, there have been problems along the way, such as the recently abandoned farming payments IT system which saw a return to paper forms.
Such incidents are always likely as part of a ‘learn as we go’ philosophy embraced by GDS, but the next government must ensure that any future projects are given more careful consideration before they begin so that potential pitfalls are avoided.
One major project that must take priority in this is the plan to make the NHS ‘paperless’. This is likely to be a hugely complex, costly and time-consuming effort, and one that could well leave the government with egg on its face, just like Labour's derided NHS National Programme for IT.
If the project is to be seen through, proper planning and a true understanding of how technology can underpin this must be considered.
6. Bring clarity to surveillance laws
Since 2013 the PRISM scandal has placed intense scrutiny on the spying activities of the UK and the government’s oversight. This has led to numerous promises by the government that it will draft new laws to clarify this after the election.
However, any government that gains power must address this to bring more clarity and confidence to the public that any monitoring is done within a legal framework that gives protection to the public, while also allowing the likes of GCHQ to carry out its vital activities.
7. Bridge the tech skills gap
The UK faces a major shortage of skilled IT and tech workers in the future. The current government has done much to address this, such as overhauling the school curriculum to improve the teaching of computing, shifting from learning Microsoft's Office suite of tools to teaching five-year-olds to code.
However, there is still much more to be done. The debate about the need for a short-term solution to this crisis is building, and many have argued that migration visas allowing talented tech workers into the UK are needed.
The next government will have to address this problem head-on to ensure that the UK's digital future, where huge economic growth is expected, does not falter.
8. Continue to bolster the UK's cyber security protection
The cyber threat to the UK is growing all the time. The incumbent government has recognised this, and almost £1bn has gone towards its cyber security strategy, ranging from boosting cyber skills among UK workers to conducting cyber war games to test organisations' preparedness.
The focus on cyber will have to lie at the heart of future UK defence strategies, and it is likely that budgets in this area will have to increase as the threats from cyber hackers, acting independently or state sponsored, will only increase.
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