Since the recession started, policymakers and newspapers have worried about the fiscal deficit and the long-term balance of the economy, writes William Higham, associate director at IT suppliers organisation Intellect.
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Intellect is producing a technology manifesto, Making BrITain Great Again, to join that debate and bring out the prospects our sector can give to future growth. There has rightly been much public talk about the need to support the manufacturing sector in the UK. But balance in the economy will only be sustainably achieved if we have a thriving and intellectual property (IP)-rich technology industry as well as manufacturing and a retrenched financial services sector.
There are many countries around the world that are competing to attract and nurture the high-technology companies of the future. But Britain has a unique starting position in the race. Throughout the 20th century, our country has played pivotal roles in the development of ICT and seen some British people become international leaders in the field. Even now, we have a first class science base and some world-beating clusters of companies around the country.
But somehow we have never quite realised the full promise and the full reward of our ingenuity. There is a falling off between the science and innovation and the number of companies started up. Then there is a falling off between the number of start-up and those that weather the first few years. Finally, there is a falling off between those companies that survive and those that scale up to find an international niche. So, we see only a handful of technology companies, albeit a stellar handful, in the FTSE 250. So, the flood of innovation and science is slowed to a stream, just at the point it should be powering our economy.
Our manifesto identifies a few critical points in the business infrastructure where we could reduce barriers. We think the tax system should be more generous in recognising research and development. R&D produces both social goods and economic advantage. We want to see more encouragement for international companies to settle high-value operations here - because the technology world is far from parochial. And we want to see the maze-like Enterprise Investment Scheme simplified and made more applicable to stripling technology companies. We also want action on skills, and action from the industry itself to lend personal expertise and mentoring to those who are attempting the long and precarious climb to forming a company for the first time. Finally, we think the technology infrastructure of the UK, primarily broadband is a strategic asset for the country, as it's a platform for technologies and new business models.
Our sector's needs are pretty modest. We are not asking or large scale interventions or tranches of money - just the right environment in which to flourish. If there's a criticism of us, it probably that we are not practised as a young industry in putting our case forward and that we should take more time to explain how our industry works to policy-makers, who often still find it hard to grasp. We will send the manifesto to leading policy-makers in the main parties. But perhaps more importantly we will say that we as an industry are ready to work with them on fixing this stuff. Software and the creation of IP can be part of the UK's growth story.