Here's what UK tech thinks of Theresa May's modern industrial strategy

Lynsey Barber
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Preview Of The Science Museum's 2017 Robots Exhibition
Several areas of tech will be the focus of funding in Britain's modern industrial strategy (Source: Getty)

The UK's tech industry has tentatively welcomed promises by Theresa May to put the sector at the heart of Britain's modern industrial strategy, with funding promised for top artificial intelligence, robotics, 5G and smart energy technologies.

“In today’s economy, the tech sector is driving innovation and boosting productivity across all industries. In tomorrow’s economy, every sector will be a tech sector," said Antony Walker, deputy chief executive of TechUK.

"That is why the government is spot on to place investment in tech at the heart of its modern industrial strategy. The 'industries of the future' will be tech enabled and tech driven - digital transformation is the future."

Boosts to sectors the government believes will help the country remain competitive will come in the form of slashing red tape, focusing on trade deals to increase exports, supporting skills and investment in R&D.

Read more: As May prepares to unveil her industrial strategy, is it doomed to fail?

The government's previously announced Industrial Challenge Fund, part of an additional £2bn spending on R&D, will feed into the strategy, in a bid to create closer partnerships between public and private sectors modelled on the US' Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

"The hope is that this is just the start and we will see other future disruptive technologies such as Nano technology, autonomous vehicles and IoT 'connected everything' get similar focus and funding," said KPMG's head of tech sector Tudor Aw.

But, digitisation across industry will also be a focus of the strategy, pulling traditional sectors into the modern age.

"The early work on industrial digitalisation, led by Juergen Maier, shows the government has clearly received techUK’s message that a modern industrial strategy is about enhancing the UK’s capacity to drive digital transformation across all sectors," said Walker.

Maier is the chief executive of Siemens in the UK and was a non-executive board member of the government's former department for business.

Transformation across sectors includes skills training for the modern world, with May promising £170m for technical education in STEM (science, technology engineering and mathematics).

Creating homegrown talent will be welcome news to industry which is suffering from a lack of digital skills and expertise, with fears that further restrictions on immigration from a so-called hard Brexit may make hiring talent harder.

However, there are some concerns that amid the talk, there is little concrete support or that it doesn't go far enough.

“Support from the government is welcome, but this feels like spin rather than action. The red tape burden for small businesses is already minimal, certainly when compared to other European countries," said Dan Rogers, co-founder of employment analytics startup Peakon.

Karel Williams, professor of accounting and Political economy at the Alliance Manchester Business School, said: “As Greg Clarke, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, admits, the announced strategy is a consultation and scoping exercise, rather than a policy."

"Skills are a priority, but just £170m of investment has been promised for technical education which, if we remember, is just half of the £350m we were promised would be saved by Brexit every week.”

Read more: British business groups welcome May's industrial strategy

Colin Brown, director of the Institute of Mechanical Engineering, called the focus on technical skills an "encouraging step", but added: "There needs to be greater investment in a range of broad technical skills to develop an agile and resilient workforce rather than simply job-specific training"

He also welcomed the additional R&D funding, upgrading infrastructure and a focus on clean energy as "broadly positive" but said it "must be underpinned by a radical overhaul of current policy."

“The UK has a great history of innovation, but UK companies have often struggled to bridge the investment barrier of commercialisation between development and bringing a product to market.

"The new £4.7bn R&D fund must look to help companies overcome this ‘valley of death’ by supporting long term financial security," said Brown.

The Prime Minister is due to discuss the strategy in full this afternoon, with a consultation seeking feedback from business.

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