Exclusive: Govt policy shows UK tech is ‘guiding light’ in pandemic recovery, says Beacon CEO
Despite the upheaval that the pandemic has caused for many individuals and businesses across the UK, the tech sector has been relatively resilient over the past 12 months.
The industry’s continued strong performance is reflected by recent data compiled by Tech Nation and the government’s Digital Economy Council, which shows that 10 per cent of all current job vacancies are for tech jobs.
“Figures such as this represent the increasing importance of tech to the financial health of the UK, and highlight its potential for leading the nation on its road to economic recovery following the pandemic,” according to Nigel Bridges, founding CEO at Covent Garden-based analytics firm Beacon.
City A.M. discussed with Bridges what role the tech industry will play in kickstarting the economy.
During Rishi Sunak’s recent Budget statement, the Chancellor unveiled plans to launch a £375m UK-wide initiative called ‘Future Fund: Breakthrough’.
The scheme will seek to encourage investment in highly-innovative companies operating in life sciences and technology that are aiming to raise at least £20m of funding, and the government will take a stake in these scale-ups, with private venture capital matching its contribution.
“This announcement and the level of investment pledged show that the tech sector is at the heart of the Government’s vision for the future of the nation’s economy,” Bridges said.
While unemployment levels have recently reached a five-year high, according to the Office of National Statistics [ONS], the industry has already proven its potential for creating new jobs, he continued.
“The fund will offer high-growth firms the chance to level up their ambitions and help to strengthen the UK’s status as a global hub for tech jobs and opportunities,” he noted.
Overseas visa scheme
Also announced during the recent Budget, a new visa scheme is set to be launched to assist start-ups and scale-ups in sourcing talent from overseas, and will include an unsponsored points-based visa for science, research and tech workers.
With access to talent from Europe having been limited by the restrictions that Brexit has placed on free movement, Bridges said many of his colleagues in the tech sector have hailed the announcement of this new fast-track scheme as a chance to tap into the wealth of highly-skilled migrant workers who could play a pivotal role in helping the UK’s industry to reach new heights.
Around 42 per cent of the country’s 76,500 fintech workers come from overseas, according to a recent report by Innovate Finance.
To Bridges, this demonstrates the reliance that the UK’s sector has on foreign talent and how important these workers are to its continued success and growth.
“With increasing numbers of the world’s most highly-skilled digital professionals able to come and live and work in the UK, the nation is sure to consolidate its position as a global centre for tech and innovation,” he noted.
Help to Grow
Another new initiative is the government’s Help to Grow scheme, which will offer up to 130,000 smaller companies from across the country free digital skills training and a 50 per cent government contribution towards productivity software up to £5,000.
“This investment reaffirms the position of SMEs as an integral part of the economic recovery, and acknowledges the need that these firms have to access the latest technology in order to excel in an increasingly competitive digital world,” Bridges said.
“With British tech firms having made huge digital innovations in the past five years, SMEs are set to benefit from world-beating technology that will not only bolster employment but also lead to an uplift in investment and support for a high-energy performing economy,” he added.
Long road to recovery
To Bridges, it is clear that from these and the various other announcements that the government recently made around tech investments that the sector is “a guiding light” for the UK and a means of overturning the financial turmoil brought about by the pandemic.
“The unveiling of the Future Fund initiative and the Help to Grow scheme will provide a powerful combination that will assist SMEs in the digital upskilling of their workers, which will in turn lead to greater productivity and growth among businesses of this size,” he stressed.
Bridges called these measures, together with the fast-tracking visa applications for highly-skilled workers, “vital” to counterbalancing the skills gap that has been present in the tech sector following Brexit.
“They will generate much-needed innovation in both tech and R&D to keep the UK competitive on the global stage, long after the coronavirus crisis has ended,” he concluded.