Ian Liddell-Grainger is Conservative MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset. Jennifer Arcuri is the Founder of the InnoTech Summit, a leading technology event for entrepreneurs, investors and policymakers.
Few current MPs grew up with the Internet, selfies and iPads, or have had a career including a formative period as a tech entrepreneur. It is therefore perhaps understandable that MPs (and indeed many members of the public) find the tech industry difficult to get their head around. Too many gadgets, too little time. This sector moves so fast it causes seismic shifts in the way people communicate, do business, interact and shop on an almost daily basis. However, we must do more to understand the needs of this vital sector.
Tech is one of the fastest growing industries in the UK. During 2011 and 2012, when overall growth was sluggish, the value added by tech increased by 5 percent. Knowledge of this burgeoning sector is vital to our future. So keep up with tech we must. Better, in fact – we should lead in it.
The potential of the UK tech industry is clear. Technology is forecast to contribute £225 billion to the UK economy by 2016. Yet remarkably, this growth has occurred almost by default. So where could we take it if we really tried?
The government is doing much it can be proud of to encourage tech entrepreneurs. The Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme, for example, is a great means of delivering additional boost to an already growing industry. It encourages investment in early stage companies through tax relief of 50% on investments up to £100,000, along with Capital Gains Tax exemption for any gains on shares. Schemes like this really help incentivise investors – encouraging bold decisions and the kind of entrepreneurial vision needed for Britain to win the global race.
The pitfall is that many entrepreneurs don’t know about these schemes, don’t understand them or don’t know how to use them. This is why politicians need to get intimate with tech. We have to better understand the needs of the people that are driving this sector of our economy in order to influence its growth and help it fulfill its potential.
So, how is this best achieved? Well, first of all we need to find out how tech entrepreneurs speak, what they relate to, what makes them tick? The tech generation communicates online, explains complex subjects through animation, and demonstrates how to complete tasks via video. One way to hone the Government’s ‘digital by default’ plans is to try them out with the experts. Let’s pilot innovative engagement methods with the tech community first.
Speaking of engaging, let’s also see the government use technology from UK SMEs. Francis Maude has done an admirable job opening up the government data troves and widening access to government tenders for small providers, but a new survey published in December suggests that only 13 percent of councils have used the new system for tenders and 76 percent don’t even know what the new G-Cloud procurement platform is for. This needs to change. Showcasing such a strategy to the world would demonstrate how the UK is leading from the front in future industries.
If we can engage, the rewards will be massive. A whole generation of tech entrepreneurs is out there willing and able to help not just our economy but our public services too. Education, for example, is one sector crying out for tech. Britain’s next generation will need to speak a digital language if it is to prosper. Indeed, a skill set based on tech will likely be imperative for jobs. There is a clear need for the government to get behind initiatives such as Apps for Good and the Raspberry Pi Foundation.
Healthcare can also benefit enormously from greater use of technology. The Government’s plans for health data united on one platform will bring huge benefits. Furthermore, concepts such as virtual doctor visits and Skype calls surely represent the future, while an NHS App to locate practices, sign up new registrants and book appointments cannot be far away.
The men and women driving this industry are a shining light for the new economy. Instead of sitting around waiting for jobs to arrive, they are creating their own. Instead of begging for the state to intervene in problems, they are developing ideas that will fix them. Instead of talking down our economy, they are aiming for the stars.
We will be doing our part. Our New Year’s resolution for 2014 will be to do more to promote this great sector. That’s why we are working up plans to highlight the issues impacting this mushrooming area of business in Westminster. We hope parliamentarians across all parties will join us.