INDUSTRY VIEW: Tech leaders welcome commitment but say more access to funding and talent is needed
Yesterday, Prime Minister Teresa May outlined a multi-million pound package of funding, support and new initiatives that it is hoped will stimulate the UK’s technology industry and spread the benefits across the UK – not just London.
There were also provisions for digital skill education and plans to ensure British tech firms still have access to the best talent after Brexit.
But what did the industry make of it? Here, leading figures have their say.
Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates
“We welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement … The sector requires access to both capital and skills to remain competitive globally; the additional investment and visas as well as the private sector roundtable can be viewed as a good start.
“However, in the context of the industry’s requirements, the investment and support needs to be far more substantial to underpin what could be a world-leading technology sector. The £61 million investment announced is equivalent to what Ireland’s VCs invest in our startups annually and represents about an eighth of what the SoftBank Vision Fund recently invested in Improbable in just a single deal.
“For this backing to really be meaningful, it must be the start of a series of targeted investments and an overhaul of the UK’s immigration system to ensure the UKtech sector is able to access the international talent it needs.”
Antony Walker, deputy CEO techUK:
“Doubling the number of tech visas is a welcome and practical step towards supporting the UK’s fastest growing sector. As our economy continues to digitise, more and more businesses depend upon tech talent to support their growth. This isn’t just a London phenomenon. There is going to be huge demand for tech skills in businesses right across the country.
“For the announcement to be truly valuable, however, the Government must couple it with further flexibility on Tier 2 high skilled talent. It must also address concerns about the speed and costs associated with Tier 1 and 2 visas to ensure they can be used by companies large and small.
“While this announcement shows the UK’s desire to be open to talent once we leave the EU, it alone will not compensate for the impact of Brexit. There is still a huge amount of work to do to clarify the rights of EU citizens that already work in the sector and to build a fit-for-purpose immigration system once we leave the EU. We ultimately need a light-touch UK/EU visa system based on an ‘ESTA for work’ model where companies can quickly and easily self-certify EU workers taking on roles.
“International tech talent makes a huge contribution to the UK economy. For every ten highly skilled jobs that are created an additional four lower skilled jobs are created. The tech sector is increasingly the backbone of the economy, and making sure it can thrive post-Brexit is in everyone’s interest.”
“For a services-exporting tech sector, we need a kind of arrangement similar to what David Davis spoke of yesterday to enable the mobility of workers and professionals across the continent. Exporting tech services depends on our ability to temporarily locate staff across Europe for both delivery and support.”
Jon Andrews, head of technology and investments at PwC
“It’s great to see the Government’s commitment to creating a thriving technology industry right across the UK as a key part of its Industrial Strategy. This will be vital for the UK to continue to compete on the global technology stage post-Brexit and to help rebalance our economy.
“Skills are a crucial factor in our continued strive for innovation, and while the additional visas is a positive move we also need to grow and nurture our own talent. We should prioritise developing tech talent at a much earlier age and making sure that the industry appeals to, and is open to, all.
“There is a real opportunity for the industry, schools and universities to work together to get young people excited about the range of technology careers in today’s world. Creating a diverse and inclusive tech industry in the regions as well as London, will fuel the innovation of the future and position the UK as leading the field.
“The future success of the UK economy will rely not only on technology innovation, but crucially combining this with the right human insight and business understanding.”
Tom Thackray, CBI Innovation Director
“The Committee’s recommendations will ring true for many innovative businesses. Now is the time to start acting on the Government’s commitment to raise public and private R&D spending to 2.4% GDP.
“Innovation – be it cutting edge research or adoption of tried and tested technologies – is a crucial driver of business productivity and sustainable wage growth.
“In the forthcoming Budget and Industrial Strategy, the Government must set out how they plan to increase investment in R&D and drive higher business investment across every region of this country.”