Nicky Morgan and Damian Collins: Ministers must make Britain’s world-leading tech sector a top priority

3 Jun

Nicky Morgan is a Conservative peer and former Digital Secretary. Damian Collins is MP for Folkestone and Hythe and former Chair of the DCMS Select Committee.

In spite of recent news there is definitely now light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel. With the Government continuing to deliver on its ambition to offer a vaccine to every adult by July, we can start to look at policies beyond Covid.

As co-Chairs of the recently formed Conservative Friends of Tech, we strongly believe one of the priorities for Government should be to leverage time, energy, and policy to developing and strengthening our tech sector, including sectors such as fintech and ‘govtech’.

There was a record £10.1bn investment into UK tech companies in 2019. Between 2010 and 2018, the tech sector GVA (gross value added) grew nearly six times as fast as that of the UK economy as a whole. The UK’s tech and digital sector is worth more than £400 million a day to the UK economy.

As respectively a former Digital Secretary and DCMS Select Committee Chair, we know that the UK remains one of the best countries in the world for tech, and continues to attract the best and brightest entrepreneurs and minds in the world. Eighty UK tech companies are now ‘unicorns’ (companies with valuations over $1bn) – more than any other country in Europe.

The UK also has 136 potential unicorns –  companies with a value of $250m to $800m. This is more than twice as many as Germany and France, the countries with the next largest pipeline of future unicorns (61).

It is expected that the tech sector will have 100,000 job openings a month by the end of June this year, and we believe that the many thousands of highly skilled jobs that the sector is creating will be a vital and valuable part of our economic recovery, including for those who have been furloughed and have returned to work to find their previous jobs or sectors changed by the pandemic.

According to recent reports, ten per cent of all current UK job vacancies are for tech jobs, demonstrating not only the value and importance of a sector that already represents nine per cent  of the UK workforce, but highlights the potential value the sector will continue to add over the coming years.

In the aftermath of both Brexit and a global pandemic that has impacted, and will continue to impact, the way we work and recruit people, the challenges for the next few years will be ensuring that both major tech companies and vibrant start ups can hire the talent that they need. As the British tech sector is a global centre of excellence, it needs access to the best talent both at home and from overseas, to facilitate agile and ambitious growth. According to research by The Entrepreneurs Network, 49 per cent of the 100 fastest growing start-ups have at least one foreign-born co-founder.

The pandemic triggered an outflow of around 700,000 foreign-born residents from London alone. This presents challenge to the tech sector, although employees have grown used to working remotely.

But as the UK, and the world looks to find a ‘new normal’ post-pandemic, we should use the opportunity to assess our immigration policy and student visas to ensure we really can attract the brightest and best people to the UK – and turbocharge the sector and the economy.

Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial college account for three of the seven top-ranked universities in the world with regard to their computer science departments, and these are great places to nurture talent for tech start-ups. We believe the Government should preserve funding for top-performing universities so as to enhance their attractiveness to entrepreneurially-minded students, and to create and embed an ecosystem of learning, development and symbiosis between tech and education.

Of course, immigration policy and nurturing future talent are only two of the many policy areas we, and the Government need to focus on if we wish to truly support, and catalyse the tech sector. We also need to ensure fair competition within the tech sector to give start-ups and young businesses the chance to thrive

. This means empowering the competition authorities to prevent abuse of market power from big tech platforms, and requiring all firms to pay their share of taxes relevant to the value of the businesses they do in this country.

We hope you will join us at CFTech alongside industry leaders, politicians, think tanks, ministers, and academics, so we can discuss how best to support and galvanise the sector.