If the strength of UK tech was ever in doubt, just take a glance at today’s end-of-year report from Tech Nation and the Digital Economy Council. Despite an incredibly turbulent 2020, stat after stat speaks to the sector’s resilience. As a result of the pandemic, tech, the ultimate disrupter of other industries, has found itself being disrupted like never before.
But though everything from co-working spaces for startups to bedroom pitches has had to change, the sector has shown a remarkable ability to adapt.
The results speak for themselves. There’s the fact that UK tech companies raised $14 billion in 2020 – more than France and Germany combined. Or that the UK is now home to more unicorns than any other country on the continent. Perhaps most importantly for the country’s collective future, one in 10 UK job vacancies are now in tech.
The 2020 report is hugely positive, and it brings clear tidings for 2021: the health of our tech sector and our overall economy are now inextricably linked.
Much of UK tech’s resilience can be traced back to the government’s decision at the beginning of the pandemic to open a unique £250 million Future Fund, to see innovative tech companies through the crisis in response to credit tightening and reduced seed-stage investment. We were one of the only countries in the world to do so, and our commitment to this vital sector has paid off.
As tech becomes an increasingly central part of our economy, though, we need to make sure its growth is evenly spread. We’ve all been in this pandemic together, and we must recover together.
So it was heartening to see that in 2020, start-up entrepreneurs didn’t need a London IP address to flourish. Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and Newcastle all saw a surge in venture capital investment compared to before the pandemic, according to Tech Nation’s report. And Manchester has cemented its reputation as the fastest-growing tech city within Europe – in part thanks to the successful IPO of e-commerce giant The Hut Group.
The Northern heart of the original Industrial Revolution is now playing host to a 21st-century digital revolution, with old cotton mills and warehouses now refashioned into trendy tech offices.
The government has played an active role in this regional tech boom. We have supported start-ups and scale-ups all across the country through the British Business Bank. This year, the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund received a £100 million increase in funding – taking its total investment to £500 million.
As UK tech goes from strength to strength, it is providing thousands of highly-skilled, well-paid jobs. There are over 31,000 vacancies for software developers in the UK, with the average tech salary growing to £53,318. We’re working hard to train the British public up for these jobs of the future. The government’s Skills Toolkit which includes free courses on the basics of machine learning and beyond. Whilst we’ve also invested more than £100 million nationally to sponsor PhDs and other specialist skills.
There are of course plenty of non-digital jobs in the tech world. In fact, over a third are in more conventional areas, such as HR, marketing, legal and compliance. To borrow the old proverb, tech is a rising tide that is lifting all boats.
And if historical precedent is anything to go by, the darkness of the pandemic could herald powerful new shards of light for tech in 2021.
The last financial crisis catalysed an entrepreneurship wave in the UK, launching household names like TransferWise and Zoopla. Venture capital firms raised a record $8.2 billion this year, up from $5.5 billion in 2019. Who knows what innovative new disruptors will emerge as a result?
That was 2020; what can we expect in 2021? First and foremost, there will be another huge tech push from this government – both to expand the growth of start-ups and scale-ups and get thousands of businesses online. We want to unleash the full potential of data, and we just became the first country in the world to announce a new pro-competition digital regime that will invite exciting new innovators and disruptors into the fold.
And after a year that proved the power of tech in a global crisis, we’ll be looking to deploy it against some of society’s most pressing challenges in 2021, including by showcasing our trailblazing Climate Tech to the rest of the world ahead of the COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow.
All in all, 2020 has been very tough but it’s been a busy year for the sector. With tech set to be at the heart of building back better, 2021 could be a momentous year.