Labour has published its 2024 general election manifesto with a number of key policies around technology and innovation.

With the election coming up fast on 4th July, Labour are an estimated 20 points ahead in the polls. Its leader Keir Starmer could be set for a landslide victory to match – or better – Tony Blair’s result in 1997.

The party’s Shadow Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary told an audience at London Tech Week that “Britain is uniquely positioned to benefit from new technologies like AI”.

Peter Kyle pledged that Labour would “place technology at the heart of our missions and unblock tech barriers to restart the engine of our economy”.

The manifesto states: “Delivering growth and raising productivity depend on fresh thinking and new ideas. Britain has many cutting-edge businesses, but innovation needs to be converted into commercial success in every corner of our country.

“Labour will make Britain the best place to start and grow a business.”

Data centres

As part of its industrial strategy, Labour is promising to remove planning barriers for new data centres on green belt land surrounding cities.

By reclassifying them as ‘nationally significant infrastructure projects’ – alongside the likes of airports and power plants – this would allow projects to bypass local authorities and support the development of the artificial intelligence sector by ensuring there is sufficient compute power.

Earlier this week, as part of its own manifesto, the incumbent Conservative government promised to invest £1.5 billion in large-scale compute clusters to bolster the UK AI industry.

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The manifesto also proposed 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”.

Innovation & procurement

Labour says it will scrap short funding cycles for key R&D institutions in favour of 10-year budgets that allow meaningful partnerships with industry to keep the UK at the forefront of global innovation.

“We will work with universities to support spinouts; and work with industry to ensure startups have the access to finance they need to grow,” it added. “We will also simplify the procurement process to support innovation and reduce micromanagement with a mission-driven approach.”

Kyle said small businesses have been “locked out of the procurement system” for government contracts by red tape.

Mark Boost, CEO of cloud computing firm Civo, hailed the importance of this for the tech sector.

“For too long, competition for these services has not been on a level playing field, with standards less rigidly applied to Big Tech businesses. We saw this with data sovereignty requirements for cloud services, only for AWS to win the contract,” he reflected.

“Unmooring the public sector from Silicon Valley can only be a benefit. The UK has one of the strongest tech sectors in the world, an industry that continues to grow despite recent economic challenges. 

“Why not capitalise on the talent we have over here, instead of awarding huge contracts to large US tech firms that have no stake in the direction of the nation?”

Labour said it will support diverse business models which bring innovation and new products to the market – for example by doubling the size of the UK’s co-operative and mutuals sector. “We will work with the sector to address the barriers they face, such as accessing finance,” it said.

It also intends to reform the British Business Bank, giving it greater autonomy, to encourage greater SME investment across the regions.

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Regulators are currently ill-equipped to deal with the dramatic development of new technologies, says Labour, “which often cut across traditional industries and sectors”. 

The party intends to 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.” 

Labour will also 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, it said.

Other areas

Labour also pledged to modernise HMRC through technology, building capacity and tackling tax avoidance “by large businesses and the wealthy”.

It also wants to create the conditions to support innovation and growth in financial services through supporting open banking and open finance while “ensuring a pro-innovation regulatory framework”.

On crime, the manifesto stated: “Fraud accounts for almost two in five crimes, but the Conservatives have failed to respond to the scale of the challenge. Labour will introduce a new expanded fraud strategy to tackle the full range of threats, including online, public sector and serious fraud. We will work with technology companies to stop their platforms being exploited by fraudsters.”

It also namechecked tech’s role in green energy; education, with the goal of transforming Further Education colleges into specialist Technical Excellence Colleges which work directly with businesses, trade unions and local government; and health, with an emphasis on shifting the NHS away from a model geared towards late diagnosis and treatment to one where more services are delivered in local communities. 

“We will harness the power of technologies like AI to transform the speed and accuracy of diagnostic services, saving potentially thousands of lives… we will embed a greater focus on prevention throughout the entire healthcare system and supporting services. 

“As we knew in 1945, much avoidable ill health can be prevented.”

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