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Gavin Poole and Andrew Roughan

CEO, Here East and MD, Plexal

May’s latest commitments to tech are welcome, but the next PM has more work to do

“Let’s come together to create a tech nation that truly is worlds apart”, the Prime Minister Theresa May declared this morning (10 June) at the opening ceremony of London Tech Week at Here East in Plexal.

Theresa May’s arrival at London Tech Week highlights the significant collaboration between government and the UK’s tech sector that has underpinned the growth of the British digital economy.

Despite coming to the end of her term, the Prime Minister made a significant commitment to ensuring the UK is leading the way in tech for years to come. There is no doubt that her successor has a great responsibility to ensure this commitment is seen through, not only for the good of UK business, but for the quality of life for communities across the country.

Putting artificial intelligence (AI) at the centre of her commitment, Theresa May has announced that the government will be creating up to 2,500 AI and data master’s courses, enabling the workforce to up-skill and ‘contribute to the ongoing AI revolution’. They will also fund up to 1,000 scholarships, ensuring access for all, regardless of background.

This commitment is what the UK tech sector needs. As the UK looks to lead the way in tech innovation, government support from the highest level is the only way to ensure that the benefits are seen across the country. With tech hubs emerging in Manchester, Leeds and Bristol, it is fitting that the PM wanted to deliver this news within London’s tech and innovation centre in front of the UK’s highest tech influencers.

Technology is at the forefront of change. It will shape the world to come and will solve some of today’s most pressing issues. Air pollution and congestion, quality healthcare, security and equal access to jobs are just a few examples of critical concerns we see in our cities and communities across the UK. It was encouraging to see the government taking a bold stand on one of these issues with the PM promising all “new cars and vans to be effectively zero emissions by 2040”.

At Here East we have seen the extent to which innovation is accelerated when regulators, policymakers, entrepreneurs and investors coalesce around big social issues. Whether it is around urban mobility, artificial intelligence or robotics, this is the perfect model to scale world-class technology fast and Plexal is our vehicle that does this at Here East.

More than a third of Europe’s fastest-growing tech companies are now based in Britain and London is home to the most tech unicorns in Europe, totalling 45 compared to Berlin’s ten and Paris’s nine. The commitment made by the government today will seek to increase this.

In order to ensure that it works, we need to build on the commitment that Theresa May has made to tech within the UK’s industrial strategy. We need to work hand in hand with the new government to help push through policies such as including technological skills classes in schools, lifting laws that currently hinder mobility innovation and plugging more investment into technology healthcare and care services in the capital.

The prime minister launching London Tech Week with us is a strong signal to the emphasis placed on technology by the British government and shows it is supportive of the tech start-ups across the country who are navigating challenging journeys and ultimately looking to reimagine the future of Britain. But government support shouldn’t be reserved just for London Tech Week. It is necessary now more than ever for this enthusiasm to be maintained throughout the year.

For the UK to remain competitive and be able to tackle the widespread social and economic issues we face, the government needs now to take a stronger leading position on technology and make sure we are deploying it effectively across all sectors.

The next prime minister needs to quickly address two issues; the available talent gap and 5G. UK tech has access to a remarkable, diverse talent pool but we need more. We need to be open to more world-class talent coming to our country and to achieve this, we need to address the Tier 2 visa cap urgently.

The second issue is to help the ecosystem develop a more sustainable way to roll out 5G so that we can rapidly network, not just pilot locations but the nation. With operators barely getting a return on their 4G investment there is a real opportunity to think laterally about who shares the future investment which many sectors will benefit from.

Gavin Poole is chief executive of Here East and Andrew Roughan is managing director of Plexal – co-hosts of the opening ceremony of London Tech Week