Conservatives plan for new land data body

Digital services elements of election manifesto include a schools map, more support for NHS apps and continued support for Verify

Data rationalisation, a new geospatial data body, more online information services, more NHS apps and a renewed commitment to the roll out of GOV.UK Verify have all been included in the Conservative Party’s general election manifesto, published today.

Conservative logo - Union Jack in shape of treeWhile the general media has focused on the plans for social care funding and balancing the budget, the document includes a whole chapter on digital issues, including a section on digital government and public services.

It reiterates – although describing this as new – the commitment to making services digital by default and that all should be fully accessible online. But it also promises that more information on public services, including local issues and transport, will be made available online.

Among the plans are a ‘schools map’ that will include information on the quality of teaching, attainment and curriculum of local schools, and the publication of all operational performance data for public facing services. In a nod to the open data movement, the manifesto says there will be requirements for the data to be released regularly and in an open format, and aggregated and anonymised when necessary.

Geospatial plan

It looks to deal with the fragmentation of digital data on land – which it says is hindering efforts to release value – with a commitment to create a new geospatial data body that brings together the relevant parts of HM Land Registry, Ordnance Survey, the Valuation Office Agency, the Hydographic Office and Geological Survey.

The new body would be charged with setting standards to digitise the planning process and help create a comprehensive digital map of Britain.

“In doing so, it will support a vibrant and innovative digital economy, ranging from innovative tools to help people and developers build to virtual mapping of Britain for use in video games and virtual reality,” the document says.

It also maintains the commitment to using common platforms for government digital services, emphasising the roll out of Verify as an identification mechanism for all services by 2020. This comes despite recent criticisms of the slow roll out of the programme, including a claim by the National Audit Office that the Government Digital Service needs to revisit the case for the platform.

The Conservatives also plan to push the rationalisation of personal data within government, aiming for automatic compliance with the principle of people only having to supply their data once. This should be achieved in central government by 2022 and for wider public services by 2025.

Smart places support

Support for the development of smart places is included in the manifesto, with a promise to step up the programme of support for businesses developing the relevant technologies and creating a better environment for them to be tested in the UK.

Healthcare comes into the picture with giving patients the ability to book appointments, contact the 111 service, order repeat prescriptions and update aspects of their care records online or over the phone. This is accompanied by saying they will have control over how their data is used.

There is also support for an expansion in the development of NHS approved apps to support care for physical and mental health conditions, and a promise to pilot the live publication of data on waiting times for A&Es and other urgent care services. There is also talk of supporting providers seeking to use digital technology to monitor long term conditions.

On the broader digital front, the manifesto includes a commitment to creating a “digital charter” that would strike a balance between offering opportunities for businesses along with obligations and the protection for users. This raises questions over whether a Conservative Government would revisit the recently published Digital Economy Act, which has been criticised in some quarters for not providing sufficient protection for personal data. There is no mention of the act in the document.

Infrastructure caution

Commitments on digital infrastructure are cautious. While claiming that 19 out of 20 premises should have access to superfast broadband by the end of this year, it includes no reference to the required bandwidth. Similarly, it says it will take another decade to ensure there is national coverage for full fibre connections.

The target for mobile coverage has been set at 95% by 2022, with all major roads and train lines having an uninterrupted signal, and the plans for 5G say only that the majority of the population should be covered by 2027.