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CES 2017: Is UK Government Support For Tech Really ‘Embarrassing’?

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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ANALYSIS: CES head says lack of UK presence at show is embarrassing, but is the criticism fair?

It seems strange that despite the government’s eagerness to be associated with any success in the British technology industry it should be accused of not doing enough to support UK tech firms.

Indeed, Chancellor Philip Hammond declared the industry to be the “future of the British economy” once the UK leaves the European Union (EU).

But that’s exactly the allegation being levied at Whitehall by the organiser of CES, which is currently taking place in Las Vegas.

“Britain’s been a little slow to the game honestly,” said Gary Shapiro, who noted that other countries like France and the Netherlands had a much bigger presence, according to the BBC. “We have a minister from Britain coming but there’s not a lot of activity that we’ve seen at CES.

“I think it’s a source of embarrassment.”

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An embarrassment?

Country stands are a familiar sight at major industry events like CES and Mobile World Congress (MWC), which are usually backed by public funding and allow smaller firms to showcase their wares.

In 2014, the United Kingdom was the partner country for CeBIT in Hannover, a show which played host to 130 British exhibitors, many of whom were smaller tech startups. Indeed, former Prime Minister David Cameron spoke at the event, as did major tech figures from these shores.

“I want to see a legacy from this, I want to see more companies here again,” Dan Rutstein, then UKTI Director of Trade and Investment for Germany, told Silicon at CeBIT 2014. “This is a chance for us to show the IT world what we’re offering.”

But three years on, there is no UK stand at this year’s CES, for reasons the Department for International Trade (DIT) have yet to disclose to Silicon.

A spokesperson for the department did however stress there would be a strong presence at the event but would focus on the most important sectors to ensure the taxpayer receives the best value for money.

Government response

“The UK continues to be a world-leader in the tech and innovation industry, and events like the Consumer Electronic Show can provide UK businesses with vital contacts to build their brand abroad,” they said.

“We want to help UK businesses make the most of trade and investment opportunities including in the US, through targeted support and bespoke business matching that better maximises their presence to win vital contracts abroad.”

Matt Hancock, minister for digital and culture, will attend at least part of CES, meeting businesses, exhibitors and US investors in a bid to drive up interest and will also participate in a panel on drones.

techUK, an industry body that has close links to the government, is also in Las Vegas and painted a rosier picture.

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