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  1. Government Computing
July 5, 2024updated 08 Jul 2024 8:11am

UK tech firms urge regulatory clarity from Labour government 

Multiple technology firms have welcomed the election of a Labour government while cautioning the party to devise smart regulatory frameworks around AI, climate tech and data governance. 

By Greg Noone

Multiple UK tech firms have urged the country’s new Labour government to provide more detail on its technology policies in the wake of its landslide victory in this month’s general election. While the party set out its policy positions on a range of technology issues in its manifesto last month, representatives of several tech companies and startups said that they wanted more detail on Labour’s plans regarding regulation and investment in the forthcoming parliament. 

That begins with AI, said Dataiku’s director of AI governance solutions Jacob Beswick, who welcomed the broad-based commitment by Sir Keir Starmer’s new government to invest more heavily in the sector. “As Labour expands on its manifesto commitments, it will be helpful to understand the party’s vision for what these investments will look like,” said Beswick. This included whether they would target a specific portion of the AI value chain “or be cast wider so that organisations developing, selling distributing, and using AI are included, regardless of whether they rely on local data centres.”

A photo of UK Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer, used to illustrate an article about UK tech policies under Labour.
Many tech firms welcomed the election of the UK’s first Labour government in 14 years, but urged Prime Minister Starmer and his team to provide more clarity on its policies regarding some of the country’s most profound tech challenges. (Photo: Shutterstock)

More detail needed from Labour, say tech firms

Labour’s manifesto ties policies on technology closely with wider goals aimed at increasing the efficiency of the public sector and the economy at large. This includes the liberalisation of planning rules for new data centres, eliminating uncertainty for R&D institutions by allowing them to write decade-long budgets, and creating a new ‘Regulatory Innovation Office’ (RIO) to coordinate how individual market watchdogs approach profound technological questions.

However, the precise role of the RIO has yet to be defined, argues Beswick. “We look forward to further clarity on just how this will be rolled out for all regulated industries and how this new Office will support industry with investing and ultimately operationalising these technologies,” he said. 

Further details on Labour’s proposed ‘National Data Library’ would also be welcome, said Beswick. According to the party’s manifesto, the project would “bring together existing research programmes and help deliver data-driven public services, whilst maintaining strong safeguards and ensuring all of the public benefit.” Such guardrails remain undefined, said Beswick – and could have an outsized impact on organisations up and down the AI value chain when written. 

“These new safeguards could provide the private sector with some standards for good practice, which may benefit organisations operating in the AI value chain,” he said. If written poorly, however, they could inadvertently generate “detrimental consequences to innovation and market activity.”

Questions asked on how new government will harness AI

Labour has also called for new regulations compelling the safe and ethical development of advanced AI models. However, cloud computing firm Snowflake called for a more forceful approach toward sectoral regulation. 

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“It would be beneficial to establish industry-specific rules, with particular attention paid to sectors like healthcare and pharmaceuticals and their unique needs,” said its country manager for the UK and Ireland, James Hall. “For the pharmaceutical industry, in particular, there needs to be more robust agreements established on the use of medical data, with internal investment to manage and protect this data. This could include shared profits or IP rights provisions when companies benefit from UK resources.”

Hall also argued for more details from Labour on how it intends to accelerate the use of AI within government departments. “We expect to see ‘Chief AI Officers’ hired across government departments, to ensure AI underlines the priorities in all the parties’ manifestos, while a foundational data strategy with governance at its core will help meet AI goals,” he said. 

Startups supportive of new Labour government

Other tech leaders were more unambiguously supportive of the UK’s new Labour government. Gregory Dewerpe, managing partner of climate tech startup noa, welcomed the “raft of policies from the incoming government” for his sector, which demonstrated “an understanding of the urgent need to make progress in the transition to net zero.”

The co-founder of Mission Zero Technologies, Shiladitya Ghosh, was similarly supportive. Ghosh said he hoped the new Labour government would act on its commitment to close the “gap between accessing VC investment and securing infrastructure-scale capital” for startups, widely seen as an impediment to the creation of more British unicorns. This, he added, would ultimately “drive more climate-tech founders to bring their businesses and jobs to the UK.”

Read more: So what are Labour’s tech policies, exactly?

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