Last month (September 2014), saw the launch of the 24-point Startup Manifesto, supported by leading politicians of all parties and over 150 entrepreneurs and investors. Published by the Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec - sponsored by Google, TechHub, iHorizon and Intuit), and written by Guy Levin, a former economic adviser to George Osborne, this is a charter for a digital future. As Coadec notes, the UK’s digital economy is growing faster than any other in the G20 and is responsible for more than 8% of the country’s GDP. In general terms, the manifesto calls for government to provide support in the following ways: improving access to finance; improving access to talent; building a world-class digital infrastructure; ensuring that the laws and regulations governing the digital economy are up-to-date and relevant for the 21st century; and making sure that government is digital government, which Be-IT interprets as government being not just ‘digital by default’, but being ‘leading edge digital by default’. It’s an important distinction, which to be fair, the government does understand.
We need the politicians to support our digital entrepreneurs and startups. However, the politics are more involved than you might think. There is not long till the general election and while the digital economy is probably not an obvious vote winner, immigration certainly is. The political parties’ manifestos are being considered and debated as I write and the digital world we inhabit has got to be part of them. Explaining the complexities of immigration in light of digital policy should be an important element in the politicians’ thinking.
Other ‘manifestos’ will have an influence here. Also in September, TechUK launched their manifesto, 'Securing our Digital Future'. They want the next government to have “a smart immigration policy that welcomes entrepreneurs and future wealth creators". It suggests reinstituting the two-year post-study work visa, removing caps on graduate entrepreneur visas and extending exceptional talent visas beyond startups to other firms.
It is interesting to see what the reaction to these ‘manifestos’ has been. City AM, the free London business paper, noted that in London alone the tech sector is expected to create 46,000 jobs by 2024, contributing an additional £12BN to the economy in the process. Their article stresses that the UK needs to compete hard to support startups and digital business generally. Other countries are pushing the boat out: Chile offers entrepreneurs $40,000, free office space and visas for any incoming team members. That’s serious competition.
At the TechUK manifesto launch, Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture and Digital industries, agreed about the need to address Britain’s growing tech skills gap. TechUK wants the average £175 per school budget for computer science lessons to be increased and suggests that an extra £20m is found to aid this. However, with attention focused on the rising deficit, there will be lots of competition for public money, no matter how important our industry thinks it might be.
That said, politicians from all parties recognise that the need for more digital growth is matched by a need for the talent that will drive said growth. Lib Dem peer Lord Timothy Clement-Jones CBE, says, "We have really got to take a new look about how we treat overseas students. We really believe you can't chase unrealistic targets in reducing net migration at the expense of growth in the digital economy.” We, at Be-IT, couldn’t agree more!
Andrew Finlayson, Associate Director, Be-IT Resourcing