Tim Farron, Liberal Democrats

This week, Philip Salter of The Entrepreneurs Network will explore what the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos mean for UK tech. Earlier in the week, he gave an overview of the Labour manifesto. Yesterday, he focused on the Conservative manifesto  and today he discusses what the Liberal Democrat’s manifesto would mean for technology companies in the UK. 

It’s surprising that the Liberal Democrats aren’t doing better in the polls. Though the majority of the UK voted for Brexit, 48.11% didn’t, and the Lib Dems are the only Party in the country offering a way out through a second referendum. Although there is no chance of them winning, I would have expected more momentum swinging their way.

Tax…

If you think you’re paying too much tax, the Liberal Democrats probably aren’t the party for you. They would increase income tax by 1p in the pound and reverse Conservative cuts to Corporation – from 19%, but set to go down to 17% – back up to 20%.

A theme across all the main manifestos is an emphasis on workers’ rights. The Lib Dems promise to stamp out abuse of zero-hours contracts and create a formal right to request a fixed contract. They would also maintain rights currently guaranteed by European Union law, such as maternity leave and the expansion of paternity leave.

The Lib Dems would force large businesses to publish the number of their employees on less than the Living Wage, the ratio between top and median pay, promote employee ownership and give workers the right to representation on company boards. The policy of putting workers on boards is in vogue across all parties, but comes at a cost. There’s evidence that in Germany – which is where this ideas has been copied from – that it reduces shareholder value by 26%. That’s rather a lot.

… And spend

The headline policy for entrepreneurs – or more precisely wannabe entrepreneurs – is the promise of £100 per week for the first six months for those starting a business. Although it comes from a good place, I don’t think this is what people are crying out for: a more skilled workforce, lower taxes and efficient dealings with government, yes; a handout of petty cash, not so much. Nobody would turn away free money, but I wonder whether this is the best use of taxpayers’ money when there are so many problems that deserve our attention.

The manifesto also promises that scaleups would be provided with mentors and assistance from the British Business Bank. New centres for innovation would be created around the country to “build on the success of Tech City, Tech North and the Cambridge tech cluster with a network across the UK acting as incubators for technology companies”.

The Lib Dems would also invest in the space industry, increase funding for the Creative Industries Council and support investment for energy storage, smart grid technology, hydrogen technologies, offshore wind and tidal power.

There’s also the all too familiar promises around business rates, apprenticeships and broadband. Business rates would be reviewed, the number of businesses that hire apprentices would be doubled and national colleges that deliver high-level vocational skills would be developed. The manifesto also promises to increase advice in schools about entrepreneurship and self-employment.

The manifesto promises to install “hyperfast, fibre-optic” broadband across the country – 2Gbps broadband, fibre connections, and higher speed connections for businesses. And all properties in the UK would, apparently, have 30Mbps download speed, an upload speed of 6Mbps and an unlimited usage cap by 2022. That’s nothing if not ambitious (or more likely impossible). The Lib Dems would work with Ofcom to ensure mobile phone companies provide fast and reliable coverage in rural areas.

Eyes wide shut

Where the Liberal Democrats really set themselves apart from Labour and the Conservatives is their approach to data and privacy. They would create a Digital Bill of Rights protecting people’s powers over their data, “roll back state surveillance powers” and stop bulk collection of communications data, hacking and internet records.

The Lib Dems would also let innocent people know when they have been placed under surveillance if it doesn’t impact an investigation and “oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption”. That Theresa May managed to get the so-called “Snoopers’ Charter” into law with such little scrutiny from both the House of Commons and Lords points to a failing political system.

We will see politics tested again in Amber Rudd’s call to abolish Whatsapp’s end-to-end encryption in the aftermath of the devastating Manchester bombing and Westminster terror attack. The impulse is understandable, but it would likely cause more harm than good, opening up routes for cyber criminals.

With Labour politicking like it’s the 1970s and the Conservatives getting hard on Brexit, we need a liberal alternative. However, that the Liberal Democrats don’t seem to have energised more of the liberal minority suggests they’re missing a trick.

 

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