The Conservative Party has released its election manifesto with commitments to support startups and improve the UK's communications infrastructure if it is granted a second term in office.
The Conservative Party manifesto (PDF) also contains commitments to the use of technology to support other parts of the public sector, including healthcare, central government and the police.
The party promises to press on with its superfast broadband initiative to bring 95 percent coverage to the UK by 2017, which will involve using satellite services to access hard to reach areas.
Public sector-owned spectrum will also be released for greater private sector use if the Tories form the next government.
The party also promises to pursue the provision of ultrafast broadband to nearly all UK premises once it is practical to do so.
Mobile coverage will also be boosted under another Tory government. The party said that it would hold mobile operators to legally binding agreements it recently struck to ensure that 90 percent of the UK has voice and SMS coverage by 2017.
The party also outlined plans to ensure the development of 5G networks is given priority.
"We will ensure that Britain seizes the chance to be a world leader in the development of 5G, playing a key role in defining industry standards," it said, although no specific detail on this topic was given.
Support for startups and SMEs
The Conservative Party said it would treble the startup loans initiative with the aim of providing 75,000 entrepreneurs with a chance to borrow money.
However, little information was given as to where the next government would find the money to finance such an expansion.
The manifesto also outlines plans to ensure that a third of central government procurement is done through SMEs, with assurances that they will be paid promptly once contracts are fulfilled.
Tech for the public sector
The manifesto makes several prominent commitments to technology use across the public sector, many of which follow the ‘digital by default' policies of the coalition government.
The party said it would press on with ambitions to create government-as-a-platform.
"We will ensure that digital assistance is always available for those who are not online, while rolling out cross-government technology platforms to cut costs and improve productivity," the manifesto said.
The NHS will also have a technology focus under a Conservative government. "We will increase the use of cost-effective new medicines and technologies, and encourage large-scale trials of innovative technologies and health services," the party said.
Furthermore, the Tories will commit to improving the UK Army's cyber security capabilities.
However, the manifesto essentially outlines these ambitions without giving much clarity into the levels of funding or approaches to policy making to deliver such commitments.
The Labour manifesto touched on key technology topics without much clarity, but the Conservatives went into a little more detail about the use of technology for crime fighting.
The manifesto said that the Tories will use technology to help keep criminals on the "straight and narrow", particularly through the use of communications surveillance. This included promises to overhaul laws governing the wider use of technology for surveillance, which has been on the agenda since the Snowden revelations of 2013.
"We will keep up to date the ability of the police and security services to access communications data - the 'who, where, when and how' of a communication - but not its content," the manifesto said.
"Our new communications data legislation will strengthen our ability to disrupt terrorist plots, criminal networks and organised child grooming gangs, even as technology develops.
"We will maintain the ability of the authorities to intercept the content of suspects' communications, while continuing to strengthen oversight of the use of these powers."
The Tories will also commit to improving cyber security through reforms to police training and the expansion of ‘cyber specials', volunteers from outside law enforcement with the skills to tackle cybercrime.
Again, figures on the funding or levels of auxiliary resources that would make up these efforts were absent from the manifesto.
Author's view: The Conservatives appear to have a slightly more defined approach than Labour to the elements of technology that most affect the UK. Arguably, this is because the party was in power during a time of major technology growth.
The Tories had also started to deploy more digital technology in the public sector and could claim to have more insight into the policies needed for its effective use than Labour, which had simply watched from the sidelines.
At the same time, committing to superfast broadband and startup support, while good for the technology industry, is more a continuation of the coalition's digital agenda than a ground-breaking declaration.
It will be interesting to see whether the Liberal Democrat manifesto offers more than vague commitments or predictable ambitions.
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