‘This Budget is all about backing tech in a big way’

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Following Rishi Sunak’s Spring Budget announcement, Business Leader spoke to some of the UK’s top tech entrepreneurs about the future for the sector.

Russ Shaw CBE, Founder of Tech London Advocates & Global Tech Advocates said: “This Budget is all about backing tech in a big way. This government should be applauded for committing heavily to digital innovation as a route to the economic recovery and supporting jobs. The tech sector will welcome the majority of the Chancellor’s spending commitments in what will be a step change for our digital businesses as we emerge from this crisis. From the ‘Help to Grow’ scheme to ‘Future Fund: Breakthrough’ – these are bold steps in the right direction.

“If we want a more sustainable, more advanced and more productive economy, we must put in place the infrastructure, capital and skills needed to create world-class verticals in fintech, quantum, life sciences and crucially, green tech – which the government has correctly identified.

“Brexit is in danger of restricting some of our most promising tech firms from accessing overseas talent, which makes the new fast-track visa a welcome remedy to the growing skills gap. With big public investment in science and innovation, the government must complement this with a renewed focus on digital skills, working in conjunction with the private sector, to support skilled talent who will fulfil these new employment opportunities.

“Listings reform will pave the way for a bumper year of tech IPO’s and spur innovation and growth in a sector that has massive potential to define this country’s future economy. As the City prepares for a year of high-profile floats, we now have a compelling set of proposals which will ensure British scale-ups remain in the UK to pioneer innovation, create jobs and generate growth.”

Ben Hansford, Managing Director, Apprenticeships at Firebrand Training said: “The news that apprenticeships have received additional funding is a welcome update from the Chancellor in today’s budget.

“The UK’s digital skills gap, which was already growing rapidly pre-pandemic, has only widened during the past year and this desperately needs to be addressed if the economy is to get back on its feet.  Upskilling and reskilling people of all ages must be a key focus in order to create opportunities for jobseekers and stability for businesses in this time of economic uncertainty. The Levy, which came into play in 2017 is working fantastically, despite having only been running for a few years, and now is not the time to change it unless we are streamlining the system as a whole, for example aligning competing initiatives so they complement each other.

“We need to be wary around the ongoing introduction of newer, competing, unproven schemes such as traineeships and the Kickstarter campaign when apprenticeships have both stood the test of time and shown great adaptability and resilience throughout the pandemic. Measures to encourage greater adoption of apprenticeships should be promoted instead, it’s great to see the enhancement of employer incentives which are working wonderfully to encourage more businesses to hire, and see the value in apprentices.”

Ian Warwick, Managing Partner at Deepbridge Capital, said: “The Chancellor’s announcement that the Government is committed to supporting the technology and life sciences sectors in the UK, is naturally music to our ears. The commitments to attract ‘scientific superstars’ to the UK via visa reforms and the intention to unlock pension funds to support innovative companies are welcomed. In the UK we have great academia, a history of innovation and, importantly, a great funding eco-system but there is always room for improvement and the consultation to better understand how pension funds can be accessed to support this eco-system will complement the great work already underway via the Enterprise Investment Scheme.”

Simon Hansford, CEO, UKCloud comments: “Although the focus is very much on taxation and furlough, it goes without saying that support for our hard-working public services must be embedded into all financial plans for the coming months. Rebuilding our economy will need more than a cash injection and will require investment in British businesses and the tech skills that power the digital economy, particularly for mid-sized businesses which have played to their strengths during the pandemic by staying agile and adapting to adverse market conditions.

“The power of tech within this story cannot be underestimated. The pandemic has shown the benefits to public services that can be driven when investment in these areas are combined. And, with meaningful reform plans in the pipeline for organisations like the NHS, there is so much social good that can be achieved when public services are fortified with investment in technology intended for social good.”

Gillian McKearney, Head of UK Immigration, Fieldfisher, said: “The tech industry and others where innovation is at the core of their business should welcome news of an unsponsored points-based visa in science, as announced in the Budget today.

“The tech sector particularly and others in the UK are highly reliant on migrant workers and many are reporting a Brexit ‘brain-drain’.

“It is important that the UK removes the hurdles which are preventing UK businesses from accessing the talent they badly need.  The removal of the requirement to obtain sponsorship or an endorsement is especially welcome as these barriers have resulted in a low uptake in particular of entrepreneurs in accessing UK visa routes.

“We hope that the minimum requirements for the new routes are not prohibitive and encourage greater flexibility and efficiency in the visa system at all skills levels to support UK businesses.”

Andrew Avanessian CEO at AppLearn said: “There’s no doubt about the critical role the technology sector has played in sustaining organisations throughout the pandemic – software solutions enabled organisations to switch up ways of working and business models almost overnight, allowing them to become more agile than ever before.

“It’s reassuring that the UK Government has recognised how crucial the sector is in the latest budget. From the fast-track visa scheme which would help bring skilled workers into the UK, to additional traineeship and apprenticeship funding support, these are positive moves for the technology businesses providing critical solutions. This will also have a significant impact on the organisations needing support as they continue on their digital transformation journeys.”

What next for FinTech firms?

Following the Chancellor’s budget announcement today, and it’s wider implications for the fintech industry, Daumantas Dvilinskas, CEO and Co-Founder of TransferGo, has issued a comment suggesting that it could have gone further to support talent from all walks of life.

“In the face of adversity, the UK fintech industry has proven its resilience, attracting $4.6bn in VC investment last year despite the challenges and uncertainty caused by the pandemic. But safeguarding this growth and establishing the UK as a world leader in fintech will require us to cultivate an attractive and prosperous environment for talent from all walks of life.

The Chancellor’s ‘fast-track’ fintech visa is a welcome step in the right direction and there’s no doubt that the Kalifa Review signals a commitment to long-term investment. However, true innovation comes through diversity of thought and background, and as a migrant myself, the budget was missing this final piece: a reassurance to foreign talent that there is a home for them in the UK fintech community.”

Can tech innovation save the high street?

Following today’s Budget announcement revealing an extra £5bn will be given to retailers to help the struggling high street, Sarah Edge, Director of Sales, UK and Ireland for SOTI shared her thoughts on how tech and today’s announcement could kickstart a retail recovery.

She said: “The chancellor’s unveiling of a £5bn grant scheme to help the struggling High Street, and a “Help to Grow” scheme that will fund 50% discounts on new productivity-enhancing software for businesses, are both welcome and desperately needed steps to save brick-and-mortar retail.

“As the UK begins to emerge from lockdown, it’s vital that retailers adopt the right strategies to accommodate what will inevitably be a radically different shopping experience and set of consumer habits. High Street retailers will need to be agile and adapt to new changes, with technology being the key enabler.”

“Technology such as digital signage, kiosks and tablet scanners help shoppers find what they are looking for, while Mobile Point of Sale (mPOS) and self-checkout terminals make payment quick and easy. Providing a fantastic shopping experience to customers, both online and offline, using a mobile-first strategy is no longer a novelty – it is essential.”

Scientific superpower?

By introducing the super-deduction, the Chancellor has today taken a positive step forward in prioritising the UK research base, says the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB).

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB said: “The Government has made clear its ambition for the UK to become a science superpower. The budget announcements today illustrate a strong commitment to making this happen. Not only is the Government boosting public spending on research, but it is also enhancing measures to encourage businesses to spend more on research and development (R&D) and innovation themselves too.

“The super-deduction will encourage and help businesses to invest, including in research and innovation. This is critical to help businesses build back better and lay the foundations for an innovation-led economy. The super-deduction, coupled with other measures to stimulate R&D investment such as exploring changes to pension investment rules and tax credits systems, represent important steps towards developing a more resilient economy. Today’s announcements help us move towards greater prosperity, as well as tackle the seismic challenges of climate change and the fourth industrial revolution.”

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