With Prime Minister Gordon Brown today confirming the general election will take place on 6 May, what technology issues should politicians focus on if they want to get the techie vote?

While the political parties’ pledges to boost superfast broadband coverage have been grabbing the headlines of late, the UK’s tech leaders feel politicians should be making other technology issues – such as boosting skills and innovation – their priority.

The latest silicon.com CIO Jury asked if extending high-speed broadband provision in the UK should be the biggest technology issue for politicians to focus on. The overwhelming response from the jury of IT chiefs was no, with 10 of the 12 CIO Jury respondents saying superfast broadband should not be MPs’ top tech concern.

Alastair Behenna, CIO at Harvey Nash, said that although extending high-speed broadband is important, a commitment to retaining and growing technology skills in the UK is more so.

However, he added: “A bit of significant action on any of the issues… rather than just empty electioneering promises would be a rare and marvellous thing.”

Nicholas Bellenberg, CIO at publisher Hachette Filipacchi, agreed that skills are paramount, saying the biggest priority should be to overhaul the way in which tech skills are taught to young people between the ages of 11 and 21.

Houses of Parliament, Westminster

CIOs feel politicians should focus on skills and innovation rather than broadband in the run up to the general election
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

“My kids have been using Macs and PCs at home and at school since about age four so they have good general user skills but little idea of what technology can be used for to build systems to help solve (business) problems,” he said.

Bellenberg added that if broadband for all is going to provide real benefits, upload speeds need to addressed – along with download speeds – in order to serve the needs of business users working at home.

Mike Tonkiss, IT director of postage equipment supplier Neopost, said providing support for the innovative use of IT would bring greater benefits for the UK as it would “provide greater return on investment by reducing costs and making UK industry more competitive”.

Jacques René, CIO at aviation industry consultancy Ascend, agreed that encouraging innovation should be the top priority.

However, skills and innovation aren’t the only areas which the CIOs felt should take precedence over delivering high-speed broadband.

Ibukun Adebayo, director of information technology for social care organisation Turning Point, said “reducing wastage in the delivery of IT programmes and…

…projects in the public sector” should be a greater priority.

As for broadband, Adebayo said that unless there are the systems and data readily available to help inform urgent decisions, its benefits will be limited. She cited the fact that criminal records checks for potential employees in the care sector still take several months to process because there is no joined-up database containing records of people not suitable to work in the sector.

“I’d like to know high-speed broadband is going to provide me with speedy access to useful information rather than being high-speed access to nowhere,” she said.

Mike Roberts, IT director at The London Clinic, believes the government should concentrate on issues such as data protection and IT security ahead of broadband provision, adding its use is for media delivery rather than effective business access.

However Stephen Potter, senior director for IT at business consultancy Insight, defended the government’s role in ensuring high-speed broadband covers the UK.

“Fast broadband is now a utility requirement for anyone living in the UK and so must be available to all, regardless of where they live. Relying purely on market forces will not achieve 100 per cent coverage, so government has a legitimate role to play in getting us to that goal.”

Today’s CIO Jury was:

  • Ibukun Adebayo, director of information technology, Turning Point
  • Florentin Albu, ICT manager, Eumetsat
  • Alastair Behenna, CIO, Harvey Nash
  • Nicholas Bellenberg, IT director, Hachette Filipacchi
  • Steve Gediking, head of IT and facilities, Independent Police Complaints Commission
  • Madhushan Gokool, IT manager, Storm Model Management
  • John Keeling, CIO, John Lewis
  • David Pirie, group IT director, BCA
  • Stephen Potter, senior director of IT EMEA & APAC and head of product development, Insight
  • Jacques Rene, CTO, Ascend
  • Mike Roberts, IT director, The London Clinic
  • Mike Tonkiss, IT director, Neopost

Want to be part of silicon.com’s CIO Jury and have your say on the hot issues for IT departments? If you are a CIO, CTO, IT director or equivalent at a large or small company in the private or public sector and you want to be part of silicon.com’s CIO Jury pool, or you know an IT chief who should be, then drop us a line at editorial@silicon.com.