Tuesday 14 January 2020 4:14 am

Three ways the Prime Minister can unleash the digital economy

Kulveer Ranger is board member and deputy president for economy & productivity at techUK, senior vice president at Atos UK&I, and former digital adviser to London mayor Boris Johnson.

So far, the new government has yet to unveil its detailed plan for building a stronger, more prosperous, rebalanced Britain that we heard about so much during the election campaign last year. 

The first post-Brexit Budget in March will be an opportunity for Downing Street to show its commitment to this cause — and pledges to roll out full fibre broadband and invest in digital skills and infrastructure are a promising sign.

But if Boris Johnson really wants to unleash our potential and equip our economy to meet the challenges of the 2020s, we need to settle for nothing less than the wholesale digital transformation of Britain — at both local and national levels.

Fortunately for the government, techUK has a blue-print for doing just that, with three key priorities that will enable businesses and individuals alike across the UK to “plug in” to the digital age, and prosper.

First, we must address the level of regional inequality when it comes to digital investment. Between 2015 and 2018, London received £9bn in tech investment. The second closest UK city was Cambridge, receiving just £583m. This is an unacceptably large gap.

Britain is home to technologies which are addressing some of society’s biggest challenges, from the ageing population to climate change, but too many are housed in and around the capital. More funding to develop world-class digital clusters outside London, and tax and regulatory incentives for businesses within them, will support innovation while creating local jobs and attracting the best global talent beyond the M25.

Second, we must increase levels of knowledge. Existing technology could be transformational to many smaller businesses, dramatically increasing their size and productivity, but they simply do not have the expertise to take full advantage of it.

A new service which helps smaller businesses adopt technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence and digital identity software could be established through existing channels such as Local Enterprise Partnerships, enabling  firms to easily access support that can enable them to level up

Finally, we must ensure that businesses have the financial relief they need to grow. Productivity is already in crisis, and we are at risk of falling further behind the global leaders. Figures show that fewer than one in five UK firms are adopting internal digital infrastructure, well below the European average.

Tax relief on the initial adoption of productivity-boosting technologies would spur digital investment in the short term while also increasing productivity and tax receipts in the long term.

Crucially, it would also promote the UK as an attractive market to larger multinationals offering relevant digital products, helping to stimulate direct investment from overseas and positioning the UK as a genuine global leader.

As the largest trade association for technology businesses in the UK, we are well aware that this is a pivotal time for the UK.

After years of political upheaval, where so many policy areas were put on the back-burner due to the Brexit debate, we finally have a chance to create a national digital economy that can power Britain into an exciting digital age.

Main image credit: Getty

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