Tech

UK cant make up its mind on tech

Digital Politics is a column about the global intersection of technology and the world of politics.

LONDON — Theres a lot Britain cant agree on. Brexit. Who should be the countrys next prime minister. Jeremy Corbyns leadership of the Labour Party.

Add to that list: What to do about tech.

This week, London — still Europes tech capital despite the ongoing political uncertainty — will play host to its annual “tech week” — part marketing ploy, part cheerleading fest to showcase what the British capital, and the rest of the country, has to offer when it comes to glitzy startups, venture capital investment and government support for the digital economy.

Yet in Westminsters halls of power, the hipster mecca of East London and the well-heeled offices of Mayfair, two rival factions are bickering over the health of the U.K.s tech sector — and how it will fare once the country eventually leaves the European Union.

On one side are the optimists, those who cite the countrys record tech investment figures since it voted for Brexit in 2016 as a sign that everything is going great. They dismiss the current political impasse as a mere speed bump on the road to the U.K. putting tech at the center of its future industrial strategy.

Surely it doesnt have to be a binary choice between pro-industry public policies and arguably one of the toughest regulatory clampdowns anywhere in the Western world?

On the other side stand the pessimists, who fret about the gradual slowdown of highly educated (European) tech migrants rocking up to fill much-needed jobs in both startups and legacy tech companies. On top of that, the governments aggressive push to regulate the industry — everything from proposed new digital taxes on Big Tech to greater policing of peoples social media chatter — has raised eyebrows about its future support for local tech.

The stakes could not be higher.

The U.K. government has largely bet its economic future on the countrys burgeoning digital sector. And so far, it cant make up its mind whether to double down on its assistance for local firms and international giants like Google and Facebook — be it through hundreds of millions of pounds of public funding or high-profile digital skills programs — or fall in line with politicians worldwide and the growing “techlash” against all things digital.

“They really need to attract investment funds to make sure the tech sector keeps growing,” said Luca Schiavoni, a digital regulation analysts at Assembly Research, a consultancy firm in London. “But at the same time, its really difficult to run into someone in Westminster who believes the tech sector doesnt need more regulation.”

Case for the optimists

Surely it doesnt have to be a binary choice between pro-industry public policies and arguably one of the toughest regulatory clampdowns anywhere in the Western world?

But just like the other hot-button socioeconomic topics now confronting the British public, what to “do” about tech needs an answer. And it needs one quickly.

Whats muddying the waters is how the local tech scene has fared since the 2016 Brexit referendum. Depending on whom you talk to, the countrys digital economy is either full steam ahead or rocketing toward a cliff edge.

Figures published on Monday by TechNation (a quasi-government entity) paint a rosy picture, with U.K. venture capital investment last year hitting $8.7 billion — easily outmatching France and Germany to claim the top spot in European tech funding. The number of U.K. startups worth at least $1 billion in 2018 also reached 13, more than all similar fledgling firms in Germany, Israel and Sweden combined.

On top of that, local lawmakers have earmarked hundreds of millions of additional funding through the British Business Bank (another quasi-government institution) to help local techies, as well as a further £153 million in government funding, announced Monday for next-generation computing technology.

“Once youve got the basics like rule of law and functioning democracy, startups arent going to do badly or well just because of the political situation,” — Martin Mignot, French partner at Index Ventures

Industry veterans — many of whom invested locally, so have skin in the game to play up the positives — also highlight Londons continued ability to attract top talent as reasons why Westminsters disjointed approach to the sector should not be cause for concern.

“The U.K. is not the only country having a problem with politics,” said Martin Mignot, a French partner at Index Ventures, a London-based fund whose investments include TransferWise, a successful local foreign currency exchange startup, and Net-A-Porter, the British e-commerce giant. “But once youve got the basics like rule of law and functioning democracy, startups arent going to do badly or well just because of the political situation.”

Case for the pessimists

Not everyone is so sanguine.

While the U.K. government has increased the number of visas for foreign nationals looking to start a tech (or other) buRead More – Source

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