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An Election Special: How Labour and Conservatives Plan to Transform the UK's Tech Landscape

An Election Special: How Labour and Conservatives Plan to Transform the UK's Tech Landscape
Leadership Battle: How Labour and Conservatives Plan to Transform the UK's Tech Landscape

We are days away from the UK’s general election, and the leaders of the Labour and Conservative parties, Sir Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak, are in a close contest to become the UK's next Prime Minister. Both parties have outlined plans in their manifestos to enhance the nation's digital infrastructure. This election special article explores the parties' proposals for broadband, 5G, and the role of technology and AI to transform the UK’s creaking public services.

Keyword Analysis: Emphasis on Technology and Digital Infrastructure

The first step in our examination of the Labour and Conservative manifestos was to undertake a keyword analysis. By quantifying the frequency of specific terms relevant to our sector, we aimed to gauge the emphasis each party places on Broadband, Digital, Technology, AI (Artificial Intelligence), Gigabit, Fibre, 4G, 5G, 6G, Digital Inclusion, Cloud, IoT, Wireless and Data Centres.

Our examination of keyword frequency appears to show that the Conservative Party Manifesto exhibits a stronger emphasis on sectors related to technology and digital infrastructure. With a total of 39 mentions (of all the above keywords combined) compared to Labour's 25, this rather simple extrapolation suggests a greater bias towards initiatives pertinent to our sector by the Conservatives. They notably lead in categories like "Technology" and "Digital," and have broader mentions across most technology-related terms. Neither party had anything to say about IoT, Cloud, wireless or 4G.

However, it is crucial to state that this analysis may not fully capture the depth, or the effectiveness of the policies proposed by each party. While the frequency of mentions might indicate a focus area, it doesn't necessarily translate to a commitment or ability to effectively implement the policies. Below we take and deeper look at the parties' proposals for broadband, 5G, and the role of technology and AI to transform the UK’s public services.

The Conservatives Propose Investing in Technologies While Labour Promises Broadband Acceleration

The Conservative manifesto reiterates its ongoing commitment to enhancing broadband infrastructure, a vision that initially emerged during Boris Johnson's tenure as Prime Minister. They pledge to achieve at least 85% gigabit coverage of the UK by 2025, with the goal of extending nationwide coverage by 2030.

This objective underscores a continued focus on expanding and improving digital connectivity across the country, reflecting an ambition to solidify the UK's digital infrastructure and the digital economy. While this commitment is not new, it emphasises the party's dedication to fulfilling long-term digital infrastructure goals set in previous years.

To achieve these targets, the Conservative manifesto proposes investing in new technologies specifically tailored to extend coverage to hard-to-reach areas. They are not specific about what investment they will make or in what technologies, however, we speculate that they may extend UK trials to get high-speed internet to remote homes and companies using satellite, for example.

Intelligens Consulting has been deeply involved in projects exploring new and innovative gigabit wireless-capable technologies that could significantly impact rural broadband coverage. Our extensive work with the UK technology ecosystem and the country's top academic institutions, highlights the transformative potential of these advancements. Investing in these new technologies – assuming this is what the Conservatives mean – would not only enhance the UK’s digital infrastructure but also boost the economy, drive innovation, and position the UK as a global leader in the telecoms supply chain.

The Labour Party's manifesto highlights their commitment to accelerating the rollout of full gigabit coverage by 2030.  However, Labour criticises the current progress under the Conservative government as being “too slow” and emphasise the need for a “more robust approach” to digital infrastructure; they do not provide detailed specifics on why they consider the efforts insufficient.

Labour’s emphasis on accelerating this rollout could be seen as an attempt to address perceived inadequacies in the rollout of commercial fibre networks and Project Gigabit. Labour does not state any specific inadequacies but based on market feedback we speculate these issues to be related to the complex Project Gigabit procurement process, delays in gaining planning approvals for works, and bottle necks in the supply chains.

By critiquing the current pace and promising acceleration, Labour is possibly suggesting that they would implement their plans more effectively or with greater urgency.  However, without additional context or specific policy innovations, this pledge might be viewed by some as maintaining the current trajectory rather than presenting a transformative vision as it aligns closely with objectives set by the current Conservative government.

If Labour can accelerate gigabit coverage, our independent economic analysis has shown that accelerating broadband rollout by advancing high speed broadband services to rural areas can save taxpayers GBP 1 billion, while helping consumers benefit by over GBP 3 billion. Therefore, there is merit in accelerating the rollout of broadband.

Ambition vs. Pragmatism: Comparing Conservative and Labour's 5G Coverage Plans

Neither manifesto specifically outlines plans for 4G. On the face of it, with 4G coverage nationally now well above 90%, this omission is not surprising. Our research shows that many regions in the UK are still underserved by 4G coverage with population coverages as low as 32% which is significantly below the national average. This highlights an issue that cannot be forgotten and that these 4G not-spots still need to be addressed.

Beyond 4G, the current UK Government target is for ‘all populated areas’ in the UK, including rural communities, to have standalone 5G coverage by 2030. Set against this, it's interesting to compare Labour's and the Conservatives' plans for 5G. Labour's commitment focuses on achieving nationwide 5G coverage by 2030 without specifying the technology. On the other hand, the Conservatives aim to extend coverage using specifically standalone 5G, a more advanced and technically demanding network standard that commands greater investment and challenging business case. They also highlight the ambition to develop and lead in the adoption of 6G technology, positioning the UK at the forefront of next-generation mobile networks.

The Conservatives' plan could be seen as more ambitious due to the higher investment and technological requirements of standalone 5G and 6G networks. Standalone 5G offers greater benefits in terms of speed, latency, and capacity, but it also poses significant challenges in terms of cost and deployment, especially in rural and hard-to-reach areas, where compelling use cases for standalone 5G exist. This raises questions about the feasibility of their plan, given the substantial investment required and the current focus of MNOs on city centres.

Conversely, Labour's approach might appear less ambitious but more pragmatic. By not limiting their strategy to standalone 5G, they may have more flexibility in using a combination of existing and emerging technologies to achieve their coverage goals. This could make their plan more achievable within the given timeframe, especially in areas where deploying standalone 5G may not be economically viable.

The Conservative’s ambition could drive technological advancement, but its realism is contingent on overcoming significant financial and logistical hurdles. Labour's plan, while potentially less technologically advanced, might offer a more practical pathway to achieving widespread digital coverage.

In addition, while the focus on advancing 5G and 6G technologies is crucial, addressing these disparities in 4G coverage remains essential to ensure equitable digital access across all regions. It is important for any government to consider these gaps and work towards achieving uniform connectivity, thereby supporting both urban and rural communities in fully participating in the digital economy.

Transformation of Public Services Using Digital Technologies

Given the current budget crisis facing local authorities and the increasing number of bankruptcies mong them, there is a critical role for technology to play in transforming how public services are delivered. The pressure on public finances necessitates innovative solutions to maintain and improve service quality while reducing costs. Digital technologies offer a pathway to achieve these goals by enhancing efficiency, enabling data-driven decision-making, and improving accessibility for citizens. Both the Conservative and Labour manifestos recognise this potential, though they propose different strategies to harness the benefits of digital transformation.

The Conservative and Labour manifestos both emphasise the transformation of public services, but with different focal points and strategies. The Conservatives mention the integration of technology and AI to revolutionise public services to improve service delivery, reduce costs, and boost efficiency. Earlier this year we wrote that it’s crucial for local authorities to adopt an outcomes-led approach to transform public services.

In contrast, the Labour manifesto focuses on creating a National Data Library to centralise research and support data-driven public services, as well as removing planning barriers for new data centres to enhance digital infrastructure.

Both parties’ approaches highlight the importance of technology in modernising public services, but they differ in their balance between innovation and regulation, with the Conservatives leaning towards immediate technological integration and Labour towards foundational regulatory and planning improvements.

A Pathway for the UK's Digital Future

While both the Conservative and Labour parties are committed to enhancing the UK's digital infrastructure and transforming public services through technology, their approaches differ in terms of ambition and pragmatism. The Conservatives' plans focus on cutting-edge advancements like standalone 5G and AI integration, aiming for rapid technological adoption. Labour, on the other hand, emphasises regulatory frameworks and foundational infrastructure development, offering a more pragmatic pathway to achieving widespread digital coverage.

Regardless of which party wins, it is crucial for the next government to address the existing disparities in connectivity:

  • Investment in 4G not-spot regions is essential to ensure equitable digital access and drive digital inclusion.

  • Parties should prioritise initiatives that drive the adoption of high-speed broadband, especially in rural areas, leveraging lower-cost wireless technologies to accelerate rollout and maximise economic benefits.

  • There is also a need for a focused approach to digital transformation in public services. Given the financial pressures on local authorities, technology can play a key role in improving service delivery, enhancing efficiency, and reducing costs. This includes the use of IoT and AI technologies to streamline operations, reduce costs and improve productivity.

  • Finally, fostering a robust UK technology ecosystem, underpinned by leading academic research, will not only drive innovation but also position the UK as a global leader in digital connectivity. By supporting the commercialisation of cutting-edge technologies, the government can stimulate economic growth and ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of the digital revolution.

To achieve these goals, a comprehensive and inclusive digital strategy that addresses both immediate needs and long-term ambitions is essential. The next government must commit to creating an environment that supports technological advancement, encourages digital adoption, and ensures that all regions and communities can participate fully in the digital economy.

About Intelligens Consulting

Intelligens Consulting is an award-winning telecoms, digital and technology management consultant with expertise spanning across six key practices: public sector support, transaction advisory, telecoms strategy, enterprise optimisation, research services, and programme delivery. We provide strategic advice, due diligence, market expansion assistance, digital strategy optimisation, subscription research, and project implementation to ensure successful outcomes and drive innovation across our clients in these sectors, globally. Contact us on should you wish to find out more about our Digital Transformation Programme or anything else discussed in this article. Find us on You Tube | LinkedIn or on our website.


We are a non-political organisation, and our analysis is undertaken independently; any inferred bias is purely accidental, although we have taken steps to ensure that there is no bias in this analysis.


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