Tech leadership must drive economic activity - the other bit of Vince Cable's letter to the PM

There was plenty of national coverage of business secretary Vince Cable’s leaked letter to the prime minister, in which he lamented the lack of a “compelling vision” for UK economic growth, and called for the break-up Royal Bank of Scotland.

Lost among those headline-friendly soundbites was one of the major points in Cable’s letter – the first of his five suggestions for a “strategic vision” for the UK’s industrial future, namely the urgent need for “more leadership in identifying and supporting key technologies” – the letter even underlined “key technologies” for emphasis.

Cable used a phrase that Computer Weekly readers may be familiar with – it’s something we’ve called for many times through many governments: “…technology leadership must drive economic activity in the future.”

Technology is the future of the UK’s economy, and Cable is spot on to say this, and equally to say that the government of which he is a part continues to fail on this – “our actions are rather piecemeal”, as Cable says.

He calls for greater focus and more resources to co-ordinate the government’s technology priorities. He’s absolutely right.

Cable goes on: “Despite fantastic SMEs, we have produced no Amazon, no Google and no Intel. Key issues are in finance and skills, including how our equity markets function that leave too few potential giants to expand organically rather than sell up.”

There’s a couple of obvious comments to be made on Cable’s observations. First, that the technology shortfall was such a strong theme of his letter, yet it received zero coverage at a national level. Second, that Cable is of course responsible for our technology and IT skills base as the minister for business, innovation and skills, so he’s not exactly without his share of the blame.

It is refreshing on one level to see this issue being raised in such a senior political environment, but depressing that it still has to be said. I know I’m biased as a technology writer, but surely it is patently obvious to anyone that technology innovation is the future for any major developed Western economy, and that the UK has a unique opportunity – and a very limited window for that opportunity – to put a strategic policy emphasis on all things digital to make us a real world leader.

We are sadly not privy to David Cameron’s response, and we will have to wait for the Budget later this month to see any evidence of a policy shift or new funding available.

But it will prove to be a devastating legacy for this, and any other government, that fails to see the opportunity of technology innovation as a core economic cornerstone. Let’s hope we are not to look back in 10 years’ time and read another leaked ministerial letter lamenting how we missed our chance back in 2012.


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