General election 2024: Labour promises to boost digital infrastructure

The Labour Party manifesto for the 2024 general election has promised to support the tech and digital sectors through a new industrial strategy and a plan to reform planning rules to boost digital infrastructure such as datacentres.

An Industrial Strategy Council will be set up on a statutory basis to provide advice from businesses, with the party saying it will deliver “a new way of doing government that is more joined up…and harnesses new technology”.

“We will work in partnership with industry to seize opportunities and remove barriers to growth,” said the manifesto. “We will also update national planning policy to ensure the planning system meets the needs of a modern economy, making it easier to build laboratories, digital infrastructure, and gigafactories.”

Labour said that if it forms the next government, it will develop a 10-year infrastructure strategy, aligned with its industrial strategy and regional development priorities. The manifesto cites mobile and broadband networks, artificial intelligence (AI) and datacentres as areas this strategy intends to benefit.

“Under the Conservatives, investment in 5G is falling behind other countries and the roll-out of gigabit broadband has been slow. Labour will make a renewed push to fulfil the ambition of full gigabit and national 5G coverage by 2030,” said the manifesto. “We will ensure our industrial strategy supports the development of the AI sector [and] removes planning barriers to new datacentres.”

The party makes no commitments to introducing its own version of the government’s controversial Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, which failed to become law because of Parliament being dissolved for the election.

But the manifesto promised to create a National Data Library, “to bring together existing research programmes and help deliver data-driven public services, whilst maintaining strong safeguards and ensuring all of the public benefit”.

Labour claimed that the UK’s regulatory environment hampers the introduction of new technologies and the party will overhaul the system to allow businesses to take advantage of innovation more quickly. It will also introduce laws to regulate some AI companies.

“Regulators are currently ill-equipped to deal with the dramatic development of new technologies, which often cut across traditional industries and sectors. Labour will create a new Regulatory Innovation Office, bringing together existing functions across government. This office will help regulators update regulation, speed up approval timelines, and co-ordinate issues that span existing boundaries,” said the manifesto.

“Labour will ensure the safe development and use of AI models by introducing binding regulation on the handful of companies developing the most powerful AI models and by banning the creation of sexually explicit deepfakes.”

The party said it will also build on the existing Online Safety Act and “explore further measures to keep everyone safe online, particularly when using social media”.

Technology also plays an underpinning role in several areas of Labour’s plans for public sector reform, including healthcare, policing and taxes.

In the NHS, the manifesto promised to “harness the power of technologies like AI to transform the speed and accuracy of diagnostic services, saving potentially thousands of lives”. It said the party will exploit the “revolution taking place in data and life sciences” to transform healthcare.

Labour wants to further develop the NHS App, so that patients are “in control of their own health to better manage their medicine, appointments, and health needs,” and it will digitise the Red Book record of children’s health.

In policing, Labour said it will ensure technology and investigative techniques “keep pace with modern threats” and aims to standardise approaches to procurement and IT.

The manifesto said Labour will modernise HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to tackle tax avoidance, which will involve investing in new technology and capacity for HMRC.

E-commerce companies may be targeted, as Labour said it will replace the business rates system with an objective to “level the playing field between the high street and online giants”.

The Labour Party also promised to ensure justice and compensation are “delivered swiftly for those subpostmasters shamefully affected by the Horizon IT scandal”.


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