A survey of 5,400 tech founders, carried out by Tech London Advocates (TLA) show that 55% think that Brexit remains the biggest threat to UK's tech sector. More than a third of those surveyed have lost a prospective hire as a direct result of Brexit. With the intensifying skills shortage, over half of the entrepreneurs believed that the referendum has already damaged London's reputation as Europe's leading tech hub.
This resonates with the June 2017 report from Deloitte which shows that while the UK remains a favored global destination for highly-skilled workers, one-third of non-British workers are considering leaving the UK, with highly-skilled EU workers most likely to leave. The slowdown of access to EU talent certainly can make growing tech companies harder.
However, the central government remains determined to show its support for the tech industry. In mid-November, Prime Minister Theresa May and Chancellor Phillip Hammond co-hosted a Downing Street reception for the tech sector where they announced a series of measures to support UK's tech sector. The reception was attended by tech leaders including Herman Narula, co-founder of Improbable, Ali Parsa, founder of Babylon, and Aldo Monteforte, chief executive of The Floow.
To ensure that the country remains at the forefront of innovation, the PM and Chancellor made key announcements on the new plans of support for the tech industry, which include:
- An investment of £21 million to expand Tech City UK into a nationwide network – Tech Nation – to accelerate the growth of the digital tech sector across the country
- A new £20 million fund to help public services take advantage of UK expertise in innovative technologies like Artificial Intelligence
- The launch of a £20 million training programme which will challenge thousands of young people aged between 14 and 18 to test their skills against simulated online cyber threats
- Doubling to 2,000 the number of visas available to the brightest and best talent from around the world, including in digital technology
In a recently published Autumn Budget 2017, UK tech sector further gets a strong vote of confidence with plans that will catalyze investments and ensure funding for innovative firms. Tech City UK gave a summary of the key announcements:
- Committing an additional £2.3 billion to R&D & increasing R&D tax credits to 12%: a strong signal from Government that it wants to stimulate innovation and future proof the UK's economy which we welcome because for too long the UK has under-invested on R&D compared to our competitors
- Commitment of £500m in a range of initiatives from artificial intelligence, to 5G and full fibre broadband: This is in line with the Modern Industrial Strategy and the Digital Strategy, published earlier this year
- £540m to support the growth of electric cars, including more charging points:Electric cars are seen as the pathfinder for driverless cars and will keep the UK's automotive sector at the forefront of tech-led innovation
- Encouraging regulatory innovation via a Regulatory Pioneers Fund: The Financial Conduct Authority is already globally revered for its innovative approach, which has been a huge boost to the fintech sector, but the the Chancellor wants more regulators to work creatively with startups, so that the UK can remain the clear leader in digital innovation
- Patient Capital Review response unlocks £20 billion of new investment into UK scale-up businesses: this is a firm commitment to ensuring that new long-term investment is available to fast growing innovative firms over the next 10 years
- Creating a new £2.5 billion fund via the British Business Bank, which will be dedicated to ensuring that more fast growth businesses have access to the capital they need to become the next UK unicorn
- Helping pension funds to finance of digital businesses: with access to capital being a key issue for UK's scaling digital businesses, we welcome this announcement to help them access long term finance
- Doubling EIS investment for knowledge-intensive companies (startups):doubling the cap of EIS relief for knowledge intensive companies sends a very positive signal to the tech sector that has benefited to such an extent from SEIS and EIS to date.
Thus, despite the talent crunch that Brexit brings, it offered an opportunity to develop and build skills in the UK from the ground up. It also became the lever by which new policies that drive growth and support for tech sector are made. With the firm and continued backing of the central government, only time now will tell if these plans will come to their intended fruition.
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