17 June 2024

General election 2024 manifestos: the AI, data and digital TLDR

by André Petheram

AI, data and digital have barely been discussed this election, if our anecdotal evidence is anything to go by. This is perhaps understandable, with the NHS and public services; housing; cost of living and inflation; and immigration and borders dominating concerns. And, of course, AI/data/digital are fairly technical and specialist domains. 

The consequence of this is that knowing what the next government plans to do involves trawling through parties’ manifestos. If you haven’t had the time to do this, we had a miraculously quiet Friday morning and have done it for you.  

For this, we’ve employed an innovative, even groundbreaking method: counting the mentions of key terms in the three biggest parties’ manifestos and summarising what they promise (it turns out that CTRL + F is a lot less compute-heavy than NLP).  Of course, this won’t represent the totality of their AI/data/digital policies, but it’s a decent starting-point.  

Artificial intelligence Digital Data
Labour 5 4 3
Conservative 7 7 3
Liberal Democrats 8 13 13

Labour

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‘Artificial intelligence’ / ‘AI’: 5 mentions

‘Digital’: 4 mentions

‘Data’: 5 mentions

Innovation/growth

To help the UK AI sector in the context of ‘driving innovation’ across the economy, Labour say that they will remove ‘planning barriers to new datacentres’, while also creating a ‘National Data Library to bring together existing research programmes and help deliver data-driven public services’.  That ‘National Data Library’ appears to echo a suggestion by the conservative-leaning think tank Onward from earlier this year. More generally, Labour says that its focus on liberalising planning will make ‘it easier to build […] digital infrastructure’. 

The planned ‘Regulatory Innovation Office’ — intended to improve the speed of regulatory response to rapidly developing new tech — will presumably focus much of its attention on AI. Indeed, Labour seem to suggest they’ll go further than the UK status quo in AI regulation: they ‘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.’ 

AI in the NHS

At first glance, there is nothing particularly surprising here: Labour would ‘harness the power of technologies like AI to transform the speed and accuracy of diagnostic services’. Noting AI’s power within diagnostic scanning, Labour also say that they will ‘double the number of CT and MRI scanners’, though it is not clear that every one of these new scanners would be AI-equipped. 

The plan to ‘develop an NHS innovation and adoption strategy’ is perhaps bolder, though. Labour note a ‘revolution taking place in data and life sciences’ and how a ‘strong mission-driven industrial strategy involving government partnering with industry and academia’ is a model for their possible future government. ‘A plan for procurement’ and ‘reformed incentive structures to drive innovation’ would presumably include accelerating the development and uptake of AI-based and digital products within the NHS (however achievable this is in practice). 

Data and public services

As mentioned above, Labour want to ‘deliver data-driven public services’. This is developed in a little more detail in the context of equal opportunities and support to children and families. Here, Labour say that ‘they will improve data sharing across services, with a single unique identifier, to better support children and families.’ For those of us who get excited about these kinds of things, this is intriguing, given how fraught and potentially transformative unique identifiers are (especially if you want to link datasets and start doing AI-powered research).  

‘Digital’ bits and pieces

The promise of ‘digital’ pops up a few more times across the manifesto. There is a mention of supporting ‘digital forensics’. There is a recognition of childrens’ need to ‘develop essential digital, speaking, and creative skills.’ Finally, in the domain of international trade, there is the suggestion that Labour would ‘negotiate standalone sector deals, such as digital’ alongside free trade agreements. 

Conservatives

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‘Artificial intelligence’ / ‘AI’: 7 mentions

‘Digital’: 7 mentions

‘Data’: 3 mentions

Innovation and safety

The Tories’ manifesto seems to continue their current focus on balancing investment in the UK’s advanced AI competitiveness with their positioning of the UK as international leaders in ‘AI safety’. Following from their ‘plan for a secure, dynamic and growing economy’, the Tories say that they will ‘continue investing over £1.5 billion in large-scale compute clusters’.  This will apparently support capability-focused pure & applied research (our interpretation of ‘tak[ing] advantage of the potential of AI’, at least) alongside ‘support[ing] research into its safe and responsible use.’

Government & NHS efficiency

The Conservatives invoke AI/data/digital in the service of ‘cutting government bureaucracy’, with a claim that they will ‘[double] digital and AI expertise in the civil service, to take advantage of the latest technologies to transform public services.’ The manifesto does not set out how this ‘expertise’ is to be measured, though.

Similarly, AI is an efficiency contributor within the NHS Productivity Plan (announced in March but referred to in the manifesto); it is expected to ‘free up doctors’ and nurses’ time for frontline patient care’. The Tories also suggest that ‘digitis[ing] NHS processes through the Federated Data Platform’ will be a significant time saver. It is worth mentioning, however, that the Federated Data Platform is not a new initiative.

Elsewhere in the NHS, the Tories state that they will ‘roll out new digital health checks to 250,000 more people every year’ to minimise risks from strokes and heart attacks. 

‘AI’ / ‘Data’ bits and pieces

In response to an apparent anxiety about uneven public service delivery between devolved governments,  the Conservative manifesto commits to legislation ‘to deliver comparable data across the UK so the performance of public services can be accurately compared’. There is a later mention of doing this to hold ‘the current Labour Welsh government… to account for their performance running Wales’ schools and hospitals.’ 

Finally, there is a fleeting reference to AI providing an opportunity within the creative industries, given its ‘applications for creativity in the future’.  

Liberal Democrats

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‘Artificial intelligence’ / ‘AI’: 8 mentions

‘Digital’: 13 mentions

‘Data’: 13 mentions

Growth and regulation

Like Labour and, to some extent, the Tories, the Lib Dems try to navigate a path through AI’s growth potential, its dangers, and the need for regulation. They state that they want to ‘make the UK a world leader in ethical, inclusive new technology, including artificial intelligence’, and promise to introduce a ‘cross-sectoral regulatory framework’ for AI with an emphasis on transparency and accountability for AI’s use in the public sector alongside minimising bias and ensuring privacy. They are perhaps a bit more specific than other parties in their aim to ‘negotiate the UK’s participation in the Trade and Technology Council with the US and the EU’ so that the UK can influence ‘global AI regulation’. 

Elsewhere, there is a familiar reliance on businesses ‘tak[ing] up digital technologies’ as a way to ‘tackle the productivity crisis’. 

Digital in the NHS and care 

The Lib Dems identify a familiar role for digital within the NHS. Much of this is uncontroversial (arguably trivially so), and echoed by other parties’ manifestos: new computers and getting ‘IT systems’ to ‘work with each other’, for example. They also argue for ‘ring-fenced’ digital health budgets, and suggest a ‘new kitemark’ should be introduced for ‘digital tools that are clinically proven to help people live healthier lives’. The planned ‘Patients Charter’ would protect ‘patients’ right to opt out of data sharing’ in the NHS, though it is not clear whether this would go further than current arrangements

The manifesto also places an emphasis on using digital in care. Here, the Lib Dems set out an intent to ‘develop a digital strategy to enable care users to live tech-enabled lives’; they emphasise the importance of ‘digital platforms’ in helping ‘care users to develop networks, relationships and and opportunities’. Finally, the Lib Dems hope to ease staff retention problems, in part, by ‘expanding the NHS Digital Staff Passport to include the care sector.

Data and data sharing in different parts of government

The Lib Dems set out a plan to introduce a ‘new data strategy across the criminal justice system’. This is broadly (arguably vaguely) defined: it is ‘to ensure that capacity meets demand, and to understand the needs of all users, especially victims, vulnerable people and those from ethnic minority backgrounds’. A more specific commitment is to return British police to ‘EU-wide data sharing systems’ on ‘international criminals’; that access having been lost after Brexit. Elsewhere, the Lib Dems plan to restrict data sharing, saying that they will stop ‘public agencies’ sharing data with the Home Office if it relates to immigration enforcement. This would have legislative bite: they would ‘repeal the immigration exemption in the Data Protection Act’. 

Public engagement and safety

The manifesto is concerned with the balance of power between tech companies, the government and individuals, and how it should be governed. The Lib Dems aim to establish ‘national and local citizens’ assemblies’ to focus on ‘the use of artificial intelligence and algorithms by the state’, for example. They intend to introduce a ‘Digital Bill of Rights’ alongside stopping ‘the bulk collection of communications data and internet records’; a ‘regulatory framework for [. . .] biometric surveillance’ is also mentioned.

There is a concern for individuals as consumers of digital/data products, too: to fairly distribute ‘the benefits of new technology’, the Lib Dems aim to set a ‘UK-wide target for digital literacy’ (though, again, it is not clear how this will be measured) and emphasise the importance of ensuring clarity in how products’ terms and conditions relate to data and privacy.

Finally, it’s also notable that the Lib Dems plan to raise taxes on big tech companies (which will, of course, affect major AI companies), lifting the Digital Services Tax to 6% from 2%.

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