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Tech sector appeals to future prime minister

Trade body TechUK has urged Conservative leadership candidates to support the national digital industry and warned about the risks of a no-deal Brexit to sector businesses

UK technology industry trade body TechUK has written to all Conservative Party leadership candidates – one of whom will subsequently replace Theresa May as prime minister – urging them to champion innovation and support the national digital sector.

The letter from TechUK’s chief executive, Julian David, reflects the priorities of the trade body’s member base of more than 900 companies, which are hoped to be considered by the candidates.

The first priority set out in the letter is around Brexit. Leaving the European Union (EU) without a deal would have “long-lasting and damaging consequences” for tech companies, said David.

He added that 70% of TechUK’s members foresee a negative impact on tech businesses in the case of a no-deal scenario, with smaller companies that have limited resources being even more exposed.

Future Brexit debates should reflect the importance of digital services to the UK economy rather than focusing predominantly on goods, the chief executive wrote, pointing out that digital services account for 46% of all UK service exports, and 81% of all exports from the UK tech sector.

“We hope that all candidates will commit to reflecting the needs of our services-driven economy in future discussions with the EU and other UK trade partners,” said David. “In particular, recognising the importance of alignment of regulation to ensure EU market access for UK tech businesses and international investors in the UK.”

The letter noted that further developing the UK’s plan to lead in digital ethics, as well as data portability and openness, should also be a priority for the future Conservative leader.

Candidates were also urged to consider measures to support innovation, with initiatives such as tax credits for businesses building research and development facilities in the UK.

In addition, David’s letter outlined the deployment of full fibre and 5G infrastructure as another key area where attention should be given, and noted that even though most of the investment would come from the private sector, a new prime minister “needs to prioritise action to tackle the barriers that delay roll-outs, wasting both time and money”.

“The next prime minister must use the tools that tech offers to update our traditional economic infrastructures. Doing so will require the next leader to overcome inertia in areas such as our transport, energy and water sectors,” David wrote.

“Setting stretching targets in areas such as electric vehicles, heat and water leaks are needed to bring about the change our environment and society requires. This is the only way that we can drive productivity as well as create a net-zero carbon economy,” he added.

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