With the recent Brexit proposals hashed out at Chequers many in the Tech Sector say there was little to reassure them.
Tech sector bosses have said that the proposed regulatory divergence in trade in services has done little to instil a sense of certainty and could spell disaster if rejected by the EU. The tech sector needs clarity on what a future services deal will look like. It is important that we get this right say the experts.
The UK’s Brexit proposals have done little to provide reassurance.
The UK has worked hard over recent years to secure a strong and thriving tech community. Over the last 18 years the UK has nurtured the largest number of billion dollar companies in Europe, 26 in all and sits alongside the US and China as a truly global tech hub, coming to dominate Europe in terms of attracting investment and producing the biggest businesses.
Yet, we cannot turn our gaze from Europe for a moment. Now more than ever, it is essential that the UK tech sector actively supports collaboration with EU states – especially if Britain sits outside of the European Digital Single Market.
And now, Matt Hancock, the UK Culture Secretary, who many believe was leading the charge to support innovation through increased ties, shared research data and efforts to develop AI technologies and who has been generally well received within the industry has been replaced by Jeremy Wright, MP for Kenilworth and Southam. An announcement that has done nothing to help with confidence in the Sector.
Mr. Wright was promoted to be attorney general in 2014 and this role also oversees the Crown Prosecution Service, the Serious Fraud Office and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate.
Reaction throughout the industry at the change at the head of UK tech as been ‘worried’ to say the least, with many doubting his knowledge of the digital and tech industries.
So, What are the experts saying?
Georgina O’Toole, chief analyst at UK-based ‘TechMarketView,’ said his lack of social media presence was not surprising considering his previous role as Attorney General.
“Wright has shown limited interest in digital; however, it’s worth highlighting that he has been close to the Crown Prosecution Services’ digital plans and its contract disaggregation agenda,” she said.
“It may well be that his focus on the legal considerations around the sharing and disclosure of data will, by giving greater clarity, help move the agenda along more swiftly than we have seen so far. He has been vocal in his views that government needs to find a way to ‘analyse and winnow’ information held on digital platforms so that the right things are disclosed.”
Ethar Alali, the CEO of ‘Axelisy’ and a signatory to ‘TechForUK,’ feels his lack of tweeting signals potential danger: “What concerns me about Matt Hancock’s departure is that even the government understood he was closer to technology than any of the other members of the front-bench. This is in stark contrast to Jeremy Wright, who appears not only to have zero tech skill, but also no interest in it. Having not, at this moment, tweeted anything since April 2015,” he said. Alali went on to say that the UK government has been touting technology as one of the saviours of Britain following Brexit, but this requires know-how if it is to succeed.
“With the deadline fast approaching and no deal in sight, UK technology investment will be fatally wounded as we lose Horizon 2020 and access to the European Investment Fund. The worst thing you can do is place a minister at the helm that doesn’t understand these complex interplays with technology. This removes the ability for smaller tech business to engage with Wright but also allows bigger, often less tech savvy, competition to schmooze their way into the hearts and minds of parliament through, what is frankly, utter drivel!
“Without an understanding of technology, there is no way Wright can tell the difference nor stand up for what is in the interests of 21st century Britain, given the vacuum that will exist as we leave the European Union,” he concluded.
‘TechUK’s’ CEO, Julian David, said the firm was very sorry to see Matt Hancock move on from the Digital portfolio, but added that they are looking forward to working with Wright to continue to build on the success of the industry: “As Minister for Digital, then as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Matt has been a staunch supporter of the UK’s tech sector both in government and in other domestic and international for a. As we navigate our exit from the European Union and build a Global Britain, it will be crucial to have a voice at the centre of Government that understands the role the tech sector has to play, not just in creating a prosperous economy, but in finding solutions to society’s most pressing challenges.”
“In Jeremy Wright, I am sure we will have an ally and a friend as we continue to build the UK digital economy. “
Rob Weatherhead, head of agency at ‘Fast Web Media’ said, “Wright’s background in law should make him well versed in legalities and policy understanding around any challenges he is faced with.”
“But, how does it support him to deal with the challenges facing the technology sector?” he asked. “Most notably infrastructure, skills, and innovation? There is no evidence he has even a stance on these issues. For a man who has limited social profiles, a dated looking website and no evidence of any technical know-how it is difficult to see how he is going to meet the needs of our sector,” he added.
The CEO of government funded ‘Tech Nation,’ Gerard Grech, commented on the UK’s tech industry and its prominence in Europe. “In 2017 the UK attracted $7.8bn of venture capital funding, more than Germany, France and Sweden combined,” he said.
“This success has been built over years and it is vital that we keep up the momentum as we push for global leadership in this area. We look forward to working closely with Jeremy Wright to carry on the important work of building digital skills, supporting ambitious tech entrepreneurs and promoting our successful tech sector at home and abroad,” he concluded.
And finally, it has been reported in the news that according to the official record, Mr Wright has said the word “digital” twice during more than 13 years in Parliament. The hope for many is that we will see this increase sharply as he moves to regulate the digital landscape.