Securing the post-Brexit future of the great British tech success story

With the UK’s formal Brexit notification due on 29 March, heralding two years of uncertainty, the tech sector’s lobbying for consideration in negotiations with the EU is likely to intensify.

Two high-profile surveys unveiled this week document the challenges ahead, the risks and opportunities, as the government begins a process that will determine UK IT’s future role on the digital world stage.

The TechNation 2017 report, from startup support organisation Tech City UK, gave a positive, cheerleader’s perspective. It determined that the digital sector is worth £170bn per year to the UK, and is growing 50% faster than the wider economy.

The UK remains comfortably the favoured European destination for investment in startups, attracting £6.8bn in cash during 2016, more than twice the amount of the nearest competitor, France.

There is little doubt that tech has been one of the bright spots for the UK during the generally downbeat economic mood since the crash of 2008. The prominence of the digital sector in the government’s industrial strategy shows the recognition – long overdue – that technology is central to the UK’s future success.

But there was a more downbeat note from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). The business support organisation noted that the UK’s research and development (R&D) spending, at 1.7% of GDP, is “well below the spending of many international rivals”.

The CBI called for R&D spend to be raised to 3% of GDP by 2025, with contributions needed from government and business, to secure the UK’s position as one of the world’s leading science and technology innovators.

The report set out a series of areas where improvement is needed, including public funding and incentives, culture and skills, collaboration, regulation and public services procurement.

The reason for a renewed focus on R&D was highlighted in the TechNation report, which noted a YouGov survey of 1,000 academics where over 44% said they know colleagues who have lost access to research funding as a result of Brexit worries.

UK IT is not along in its uncertainty over what the Brexit process will lead to. You can bet that our European friends and rivals will be eyeing the opportunity to move their digital sectors into any gaps left by the UK. Our industry will be looking for early agreement on EU nationals currently in the UK – who make up a sizeable group of IT employees – and for guarantees around data transfers between UK and EU organisations.

Everyone with a vested interest in the UK’s digital economy needs to make sure the government hears their voices, to secure the future of the great British tech success story