With all the talk about this being the most important election for some time, with no one party likely to have a majority come Friday morning, what impact might each of them have on technology businesses in the UK?
A lot of talk over the past 18 months has been about the tax-avoidance tactics of the big multinational technology companies and whether they are paying their fair share of tax in the UK. As a result, all the manifestos (apart from the SNP as it would not be able to determine UK tax policy) talk big on tackling tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance and planning. Although there is nothing concrete or specific mentioned, it is likely that this will be one of the main points in the new Government’s first Finance Bill and will extend on the so-called ‘Google Tax’ currently being shaped. Although this is very unlikely to impact on the vast majority of UK businesses, any tightening of controls over cross-border revenue generation and the taxation thereon will have some effect as we become a more global economy.
One of the main problems holding many businesses back is the availability of high-quality, superfast broadband (defined as services with speeds up to 30MBits/s). The well-documented issues with London’s infrastructure and connection speeds stop businesses from performing as efficiently as they can and hinders growth. All parties are behind the roll-out of superfast broadband nationally by the end of the next parliament with the Conservatives going one better by promising to provide coverage to 95% of the UK by the end of 2017 and that ultrafast broadband (up to 100MBits/s) should be available to nearly all UK premises “as soon as practicable”.
On the issue of data retention, both the Greens and the SNP are explicit in their opposition of the ill-fated Draft Communications Data Bill (the so called “Snoopers’ Charter”) which would have required ISPs and mobile phone companies to maintain records of each user’s browsing activity, emails, voice calls, internet gaming and messages. This was blocked by the Lib-Dems during the previous government and they are still in opposition to the introduction of the Bill, but are reserving total judgement until the outcome of the independent review by David Anderson QC is finalised. Similarly, Labour are waiting until the review is finalised, whilst the Conservatives are in favour of access to communications data by the police and security services, but not the actual content.
Other than these main points, the parties deviate on proposals regarding technology. The SNP was to support a Creative Content Fund for the video games industry and back the retention of the Video Games Tax Relief, which would also be welcome south of the border. The Conservatives want to put together a ranking system for the security of smartphones and tablets, as well as online financial and retail services; however there is little detail on what this would include and how it would be administered. And the Green Party would like to reform copyright terms and abolish patents applying to software in order to protect creators, which may include a proposal to reduce the length of time before a copyright expires after the death of the creator from 70 years to 14, although this has been widely condemned since being discovered.
All in all, there are likely to be some interesting developments in the sector over the coming years no matter who is in power.