Matthew Hancock must assure the future of UK tech post-Brexit

In this piece, William Newton discusses how Matthew Hancock must support growth outside of the South East as part of the much-delayed UK Digital Strategy.

The outcome of the Brexit referendum has left the UK in an uncertain position, and the subsequent political reshuffle has magnified the situation. The newly-appointed government ministers now face a difficult task: to ensure the UK retains its strong economy and its position as a nation of influence.

For the tech industry, the appointment of Matthew Hancock as Minister for Digital & Culture is a welcome relief. His experience as the Cabinet Office Minister in charge of digital government has provided him with a necessary understanding of the challenges facing the UK’s digital and tech industries.

Remaining a global capital for tech

There is everything to fight for when it comes to British technology. Between Twitter’s acquisition of Magic Pony earlier this year and the more recent buyout of London-based Virtual Walkthrough by Matterport, the British tech scene is thriving. GP Bullhound’s 2016 European Unicorn league table put Britain at the top, while Luke Hakes of Octopus Ventures recently cited the UK as the ‘go-to place for companies looking to build best-in-breed AI technology’.

To ensure that the UK remains a central hub of innovation and at the top of every investor’s watch list, Hancock must ensure that British tech continues to have access to European talent, that the Northern Powerhouse project continues, and that we have the best infrastructure possible to enable innovation and growth.

Tech is open

The British tech industry thrives in great part because of the existing investments, trade and skills that come from Europe. Companies must retain access to top European talent. If the government feels it must negotiate an end to the right to free movement, then a smart migration system – long called for by advocates such as techUK – will be crucial to support tech’s skills demand.

And more than just showing that we will allow in talent, we must show that people coming into the country will be warmly welcome, that a vote to leave the EU wasn’t a rebuke to all foreigners who would make their lives here. Hancock can help this by building on Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s #LondonIsOpen campaign.

Supporting a tech nation

The departure of George Osborne and all his allies from government, with the exception of Hancock, has raised questions about the continuation of the Northern Powerhouse initiative. Sir Howard Bernstein, Chief Executive of Manchester City Council, has already called on the Government to show that it still believes in this programme and digital industries across the North.

Tech clusters have been springing up and driving growth in northern hubs like Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh. With the funding for these initiatives now in jeopardy, Hancock must support growth outside of the South East as part of the much delayed UK Digital Strategy.

Providing the right infrastructure

UK businesses deserve the best broadband infrastructure possible. Broadband issues faced in London’s Tech City were an example of how businesses pay the price for poor connectivity infrastructure. While now greatly improved thanks to the efforts of internet service providers and commercial landlords, broadband connectivity is still a challenge faced by businesses across the UK. Nearly a third of British SMEs are still without access to super-fast broadband and 130,000 businesses receive speeds below 10Mbps. With the European Commission set to propose 100 Mbps minimum broadband access across the EU in September, it will be essential that the UK doesn’t fall behind on similar connectivity targets which would leave the country’s digital economy at a serious disadvantage.

This week’s statements by Ofcom as part of its Digital Communications Review show that Openreach will likely stay under BT’s ownership, albeit with new safeguards for independence. Irrespective of the final outcome, there’s more that can be done to bring providers and landlords together. The City of London’s Standard Wayleave Programme is a great example of a simple innovation to get businesses connected faster. Hancock can champion these partnerships to raise greater awareness of the importance of a property’s infrastructure in providing better connectivity.

Future of tech

Hancock must make sure that, despite ongoing negotiations, Britain retains the necessary openness, breadth of vision and infrastructure to stay an attractive place for tech.

William Newton is UK director of WiredScore.

Further reading on Brexit

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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