Lib Dem leader promises to double innovation funding in opening salvo of election campaign
The Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has promised to double innovation spending and make the UK the most “inclusive” place in Europe for people working in technology.
Ahead of the general election on 12 December, Swinson set out her party’s stall to those working in the sector at the Wired Smarter conference in London on 30 October.
“I see no limit to how great the tech sector in the UK can be,” Swinson said. “And I am certain that we can be the most inclusive tech-enabled country and a world leader in ethically applied artificial intelligence.”
Inclusivity could be driven by measures such as improving access to finance for companies led by women, she suggested.
Swinson also promised to channel more money for the innovation agency Innovate UK and to expand the R&D tax credit system to allow companies to claim back the costs of cloud computing software and large database purchases.
The promise to double innovation spending echoes the party’s 2017 general election manifesto, which said the Liberal Democrats would seek to double overall research funding in the long term.
In 2017 the party also said it wanted to create more “catapult” innovation and technology centres, to build a network of technology company incubators across the UK, and to support innovative technologies including the space industry.
Swinson’s speech introduced a note of caution though, warning of the risks of artificial intelligence and the need for the public to decide how public services make use of the technology in an ethical way.
The speech moves things along for Lib Dems, whose party conference in September was largely devoid of references to science and research.
“Research is vital for our long-term prosperity, security and wellbeing—but the Leave vote has already started to affect existing and proposed research programmes,” they said in their 2017 manifesto. “We will campaign against any reduction in investment in UK universities and for their right to apply for EU funds on equal terms.”
They also promised to support teacher training in shortage areas such as science, technology, engineering, the arts and maths and “to inspire more children and young people to follow technical and scientific careers through partnership with relevant businesses”.