The Chancellor’s Autumn Budget emphasised an investment in infrastructure, skills and research and development to help prepare the UK for its future outside the European Union and to maximise the return from those opportunities that arise. Just a few days later the Government published its Industrial Strategy which continued similar themes.

We have been giving some thought as to what these two key outputs mean for the UK technology industry. The 255 page Industrial Strategy document outlines the economic and social challenges the UK now faces, the key areas the Government proposes to focus on and some headlines on specific tools the Government proposes to use to succeed.

The Industrial Strategy outlines “Grand Challenges” including artificial intelligence, clean growth, mobility and addressing the needs of an ageing society. The Government considers that addressing these challenges successfully will put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future, taking advantage of major global changes, improving people’s lives and the country’s productivity.

In particular, improving productivity while keeping employment high is a significant theme. This is a direct response to the UK’s alarming reduction in productivity over recent years. The Industrial Strategy proposes to address “the five foundations of productivity”, being:

  1. Innovation – support from a new £725m Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, encourage R&D investment for example by increasing the rate of the R&D tax credit
  2. People – better skills and education should result in high quality, well-paid jobs, improving standards of living
  3. Infrastructure – a promise of a major upgrade and support for the development of electric cars and, eventually, driverless cars
  4. Places – a commitment to share opportunities across the UK, not just focusing on Greater London
  5. The Business Environment – support for new and growing businesses including a new £2.5bn Investment Fund

The Government acknowledges that technological innovations are transforming how we live and work and that in an increasingly global arena; the UK must stay at the fore-front of technological change. Businesses that we have spoken to appear to agree in general terms with the Government’s assessment of the challenges ahead and of the areas which must be focused on. At first glance, the Government’s promise to invest funds in the right areas is of course positive. However, the scale of the funds committed by the Government itself is underwhelming given the broad range of sub-sectors the funds will be needed for. The extent to which Government will be able to encourage and unlock the private investment it needs to leverage its own committed funds and proposed structures is of course unknown, and this should be the ultimate measure of the policies’ success. Much of the detail is yet to be seen and it is to be hoped that it will be developed collaboratively with relevant private sector stakeholders to maximise the chances of success.

We asked the experts

With technology as the key driver for the UK’s future competitiveness, we spoke to a number of tech founders and experts for their thoughts on what Government should focus on and how businesses should embrace the digital revolution.

Dave Caygill has no difficulty identifying what the UK Government could do to help more businesses embrace digital futures.

“It’s obvious – infrastructure,” he says. “In the UK broadband and fibre – not even in particularly rural places – is not very good. Our mobile signals are horrendous. A lot of investment and work needs to be done to enable us to move forwards a lot quicker.”

Dave Caygill, Managing Director of The iris Nursery

John O’Malia has worked in Europe since the start of his career in the early 1990s. He sees the UK as a particularly strong AI centre, with the likes of Deep Mind (an AI leader acquired by Google) and Apple (which is investing in AI and building its new headquarters in Battersea). He considers the UK to be ahead of Germany and France, encouraged partly by the UK Government’s support in the form of R&D tax credits.

“There’s also been a lot of activity by the UK Government to seek guidance from the AI industry. The Government should continue to talk it up and encourage investment in it.”

John O’Malia, founder and CEO of VAIX.AI

Adrian Watson would like the Government to raise awareness among young people at university and in school about the opportunities that exist in technology.

“There are interesting, highly paid jobs in the technology space and you may not necessarily need to go to university to train up for these jobs. So anything the government could do around helping to create a bigger talent pool would be good; then following Brexit, ensuring that if there is a skills shortage, we can continue to attract the best people from outside the UK if necessary.”

Adrian Watson, Chief Financial Officer of Lendable

Oliver Bridge believes traditional businesses could take steps to become more digital.

“Think about your business and what processes are frustrating or slow or have high error rates. There’s almost certainly some off-the-shelf software product that will sort it for you.”

Oliver Bridge, founder and CEO of Cornerstone.

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