Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
show image

Russ Shaw

Founder, Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates

The right policy can burnish UK tech’s reputation on a global stage

Amber Rudd’s departure as Home Secretary has added yet another layer of uncertainty to the UK’s political and economic landscape. If we are to weather the storm, we must recognise now more than ever the need for the public and private sectors to come together.

Government engagement is fundamental to producing policy and legislation that accurately reflects the needs of the tech sector and that will not restrict future growth. Disparity and divergence between those in key government positions and industry experts within the tech community is greatly detrimental to creating a prosperous tech ecosystem. 

The government has shown us that it can get it right. Announcements last week to increase investment in AI by £1 billion to bolster the country’s tech sector, is the epitome of successful collaboration. Policymakers have worked closely with major private sector organisations in the space and have recognised the opportunity for the UK to carve out its unique place in DeepTech.

Engagement however is not always consistent.

We have witnessed examples of decision making that run contrary to the sentiments being voiced by the tech community. The largest multinational companies have a strong presence in Westminster and will continue to play an active role in policy decisions. It is the UK’s start-ups, scale-ups and SMEs that are not being heard – infancy means they are the most vulnerable organisations to detrimental legislation in the economy. 

A standout example on the lack of government engagement is the issue of Tier 2 visa allocation. The UK tech community has been crying out for changes to be made to the immigration route taken by skilled workers entering the UK. Britain’s start-ups and scale-ups are in desperate need of talent, the number of unfilled vacancies in UK tech is now reaching a critical level – with many businesses citing an inability to recruit highly skilled applicants as the greatest barrier to growth.

Britain is home to some of the world’s most talented individuals and those equipped with essential skills in engineering, coding and data analytics. However, these numbers cannot keep pace with job growth, not even in the short-run.

Domestic talent is falling short and at the same time we are witnessing a reduction in job applicants from EU residents who are hesitant to relocate to the UK amidst Brexit uncertainties. If the sector is to fully maximise its potential, it is vital that tech companies can source the brightest and best workers from overseas.

Tech London Advocates wrote an open letter to Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes, signed by over 60 leading figures in UK tech, calling for an urgent increase in Tier 2 visa allocation. Not only is the cap currently limited to 20,700, which has never been adjusted and is now being hit month on month, but the salary requirements are increasing. Without the ability to recruit talented applicants in the most starved positions –such as coders and developers – from outside of the EU, tech companies are facing a significant skills crisis.

The appointment of Sajid Javid as the new home secretary is a chance to create an opportunity out of adversity. If officials at the top increase engagement with the tech community, we can begin measured reform and create a fit-for-purpose immigration system – reflecting the requirements of the private sector and encouraging sustained growth for the UK’s digital economy.

This is about sending the right message to entrepreneurs and business leaders in the tech sector, who have made a huge impact to the UK economy, and showing that the government has the ability to action the most urgent issue that is threatening the flourishing tech sector here in the UK. 

This country must attract the world’s most talented workers and convey the message that Britain is open for business. Increasing the allocation of Tier 2 visas would show a willingness to engage with the tech community and understand the challenges facing businesses.

The UK has the potential to become a centre point for those looking to join or create the tech companies of tomorrow but we cannot allow for political turmoil to halt our growth.

Russ Shaw is the founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates