Kwarteng to shoot down prospect of electronic strike ballots

The Business Secretary is expected to claim the method could be manipulated by ‘ill-intentioned’ states.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)

The Business Secretary is set to shoot down the prospect of unions holding electronic strike ballots, citing concerns the votes could be vulnerable to a “malevolent attack” from foreign states.

An independent review of electronic balloting back in 2017, led by former chief fire and rescue adviser Sir Ken Knight, concluded the method should be “examined in test conditions before it is introduced under any live situation or fully rolled out”, and only for non-statutory votes.

The Government said at the time it would consider the recommendations and consult with experts from relevant organisations before responding.

Three years on, in 2020, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) mocked ministers for the lengthy wait for their verdict, saying their response “must be lost in the post”.

The TUC argued in favour of e-ballots, making the case the law as it stands “remains stuck firmly in the pre-digital era”.

But Kwasi Kwarteng is now expected to formally reject the idea, The Telegraph reported, alluding to the potential for such ballots to be manipulated by “ill-intentioned” states.

There is a real threat of malevolent attack on Britain’s IT systems, whether from criminals, those seeking to frustrate users or from those directly or indirectly employed by ill-intentioned foreign states

Sir Ken Knight

Sir Ken said in his report he did not find a “compelling case to move directly to the introduction of e-balloting” for industrial action, but if ministers were minded to consider this, “it would be sensible to carry out some tests first”.

However the PA news agency understands Mr Kwarteng will not even approve a trial of the method.

The Business Secretary is expected to cite Sir Ken’s concerns, set out in the report, that “there is a real threat of malevolent attack on Britain’s IT systems, whether from criminals, those seeking to frustrate users or from those directly or indirectly employed by ill-intentioned foreign states”.

The Telegraph said it had been told by an ally of Mr Kwarteng that the move to e-ballots would be “complete insanity”, arguing:  “Hostile states are looking for every opportunity to destabilise Britain’s economy, so this is absolutely the last thing Kwasi is going to take forward.”

It comes in a week Britain has been crippled by strikes on the railways, while holidaymakers face further disruption over the summer as British Airways workers based at Heathrow have backed industrial action in a dispute over pay.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “We launched a review into the safety and security of electronic balloting for industrial action in 2017. Ministers have yet to respond but will do so in due course.”

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