Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/04/13/tory_manifesto/

Tories put ID cards, Contactpoint on manifesto hit list

Decentralised techie state is the aim

By Jane Fae Ozimek

Posted in Government, 13th April 2010 12:33 GMT

The Conservative Party Manifesto, published today, is a slap in the face for all those who have been claiming that there is very little difference between the two major parties when it comes to policy.

There are clearly major differences in what a Conservative government would do: for instance, they would scrap ID cards, the National Identity Register and the Contactpoint database – although we knew that already.

First off, the economy. There is far less detail than in the Labour manifesto: a return, perhaps, to government by first principles, rather than micro-management. However, the big principles that shine through suggest that the Tories are not afraid to follow the example of the Canadian government some 15 years back: to cut government spending drastically, return power and responsibility to businesses – and to grow our way out of recession through the power of entrepreneurial success.

Thus, their manifesto talks of the need for decentralisation and stopping "government trying to direct everything from the centre". There will be an emergency budget, followed by cuts to government waste now – as opposed to next year. The aim is to eliminate the bulk of the structural current budget deficit over the life of this Parliament.

The motor for prosperity will be small business. To that end, there will be concessions to start-ups hiring new employees in their first year, small business rate relief will be automatic, and they will aim to deliver 25 per cent of government research and procurement contracts through SMEs.

Lower spending is the name of the game, rather than higher taxes: so initially, the headline rate of corporation tax will be reduced to 25p and the small companies’ rate to 20p, with far fewer complex reliefs and allowances. Research and development tax credits will be improved and refocused on hi-tech companies, small businesses and new start-ups.

Good and bad news for the ICT sector, with a freeze on major new Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) spending, and immediate negotiations to achieve cost reductions from major suppliers. However, they plan to open up the £200bn government procurement budget far further by publishing online all government tender documents for contracts worth over £10,000, and breaking up large ICT projects into smaller components.

The hi-tech focus is further emphasised by a nod in the direction of Sir James Dyson’s review into making Britain Europe’s leading hi-tech exporter – with a far higher emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths subjects in schools and a new prize for engineering. There is praise for Silicon Valley and Japan.

An immediate start to the high-speed rail network is pencilled in: like Labour, Tories want a superfast broadband network throughout the UK – and they will scrap the 50p phone tax.

Green credentials include an end to the third runway at Heathrow, better carbon emissions management, and a Green Investment Bank.

Back to ICT: the message is, on the one hand, an end to government intrusion into our private lives: first, as has been announced previously, there will be far fewer centralised databases. At last count, the Tories are set to scrap around 11 major database projects – and they will scale back the vetting database project to “common sense” dimensions.

Second, they intend to use the power of new technology to open up government: for instance, all items of spending over £25,000 would be published online, as well as the salaries of senior civil servants in central government. Tendering will go online.

These are details: what emerges from the manifesto is the image of a party that finally "gets it" with respect to the internet and understands how to get the best out of it.

A Conservative government would create a powerful new right to government data, enabling the public to request – and receive – government datasets in an open and standardised format. Open source would no longer be shunned, but treated as a valuable ally when it comes to development of government services.

On individual rights, the Conservative proposals may cause purists to shudder, given that they intend to replace the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights. On the other hand, proposals likely to find favour are a cutting back of intrusive powers of entry into homes, reduced surveillance powers, Privacy Impact Assessments for any proposal that involves data collection or sharing and full Parliamentary scrutiny of any new powers of data-sharing.

They will strengthen the powers of the Information Commissioner to penalise any public body found guilty of mismanaging data.

The Conservatives are against the indefinite retention of innocent people’s DNA, and they will change the guidance to give people on the DNA database who have been wrongly accused of a minor crime an automatic right to have their DNA withdrawn.

They will review and reform libel laws "to protect freedom of speech, reduce costs and discourage libel tourism".

In the end, though, the over-arching theme is a view that wherever possible, personal data should be controlled by individual citizens themselves. ®