What does the UK Tech industry need to become the next Silicon Valley?
When the then Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced last year’s budget, the backdrop of the geopolitical landscape painted a worrisome picture. The war in Ukraine had only recently begun, immediately impacting both food and energy prices and the global supply chain. The government’s focus quickly shifted towards safeguarding our economy whilst also trying to fulfil the promises of a post-pandemic bounce-back.
As for the Technology sector, few significant changes were implemented that have since spurred life (or growth) into the industry. Initiatives like increased investment in green technologies are helping to steer the industry towards a more sustainable future, for instance. However, there is more work to be done in other growing areas of the industry like ensuring microchip independence or following through on Boris Johnson’s dream of making the UK a leader in battery technology.
Chatter persists around whether the UK’s technology sector is evolving quickly enough to rival that of Silicon Valley. So, what has to happen to bring this dream into reality and most importantly what does this Spring Budget need to include to kickstart that process? Here are just a few initiatives that the UK Government could take this March that could help the tech sector reach the next level.
It starts with investment
With the wrapping up of Tech Nation, to many startups’ disappointment, the UK startup scene is looking for other support networks and funding circles that can help take their business to the next level. While the recent launch of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology demonstrates some level of commitment towards the sector from the government, Tech Nation offered a government-backed ‘not-for-profit’ that had the UK’s startups at the heart of every decision it made and every penny it invested.
The UK tech industry needs a Tech Nation now more than ever. Whilst innovation remains consistently high, entrepreneurs and startup leaders need support both financially and educationally so they know how to tackle the issues facing them, whether that’s a likely incoming recession or the ongoing cost of living crisis.
Likewise, the Government could kill two birds with one stone here and help support those companies who face the daunting prospect of laying off swathes of workers in the coming weeks and months, something that the industry has seen far too much of recently.
Whether this takes the form of a new “tech jobs grant” or supporting technology companies with increased funding and support (like Tech Nation provided), action must be taken to help stem the flood of job cuts sooner rather than later. This wave of job losses is having an impact on the perception of the UK technology industry, and if employees and fresh talent suspect that their jobs won’t be safe within the sector, they’ll look elsewhere or perhaps even abroad.
Continue to ‘level up’
The UK Technology sector is still over-reliant on its capital city. There has been a sustained effort over the past few years to grow other regions of the UK to incorporate the growth in the technology industry. Cities like Glasgow and Leeds have opened their arms to corporations and technology businesses looking to expand out of London and the industry has benefited hugely given the larger, more diverse pool of talent now available to them outside of the Capital.
More cities and regions are calling out for more significant investment to help attract new businesses and global tech leaders to open offices or hire remote staff in areas outside of London. With hybrid working now a permanent feature of the workplace, options are open to businesses and employees to work from new locations, with greater investment in more of the UKs regions and cities, businesses and technology companies will follow.
Silicon ➡️UK Valley
Barring the 190+ days of Californian sunshine, few attributes that Silicon Valley possess can’t be replicated here in the UK. In fact, where Silicon Valley has walked, London and the UK can learn to run. Where the US Tech industry has been quick, perhaps too quick, to chase growth over long-term profitability, the UK is in a position to take learnings from this and change tact.
To implement this, the British government needs to bring in a ‘Tech Ambassador’, more than just a Secretary of State for the technology sector. This ambassador needs to be experienced, passionate and confident in drawing the gaze of wealthy US VCs away from their ‘innovative’ startups across the pond. Instead bringing their attention, their investment and their insights to help support the truly profitable future unicorns that the UK is producing at the moment and which are crying out for substantial investment.
The UK technology industry sits at a crossroads, where it could excel in new territory, competing and ultimately supplanting the likes of Silicon Valley to define a new global model for successful and sustainable tech investment, absorbing the benefits from this success into the UK economy at a time when it needs it most. Previous governments have for years spoken positively about their ambition to make the UK technology industry a world leader. Now is the time to put those words to work and commit to making the UK Tech scene the best it possibly can be.
As the first spring budget for the newly-created Science, Innovation and Technology department, it will be interesting to see just how much backing it has to go forth and truly innovate the science and technology sectors throughout the country.
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