Brexit Britain: TechUK sets out its top five priorities for government

Julian David, CEO of techUK
Julian David, CEO of techUK

The tech sector will be vital to the UK’s success in a post Brexit world. Here, Julian David, CEO of techUK, sets out what he sees as the government’s top priorities

Access to the single market must be the primary objective of any negotiation

Access to the single market allows tech firms to compete for business on equal terms across Europe, generating jobs and growth and is a key factor in the UK’s ability to attract foreign investment. Maintaining access to the single market must be the number one objective of any new relationship with Europe.

Retaining and attracting talent

The UK tech sector has thrived on its ability to attract the best skills and entrepreneurial talent from across Europe. These people have been integral to UK tech’s success. If the UK can no longer benefit from free movement then a new ‘smart immigration’ policy needs to be put in place that prioritises the needs of the UK’s tech sector. This isn’t just about getting the bureaucracy right. These people must also feel that they are welcome and valued in the UK.

Start work now on securing international data flows and data protection

Tech businesses are data driven and depend upon the ability to move data across national borders. Any changes in the UK’s relationship with Europe must not impede the ability of data to flow freely to and from the EU. New European data protection laws are likely to come into force before the UK leaves the EU. Urgent consideration should be given to the relative merits of maintaining, adapting or completely re-legislating the UK’s data protection laws. It seems likely that the UK may have to strike some form of agreement similar to the EU US Privacy Shield in order to ensure cross border data flows. Work needs to start now in full partnership with industry to develop solutions that position the UK as a global data leader.

It must be ‘Business as Usual’

To address immediate concerns about the impact of the referendum, government must demonstrate that uncertainty does not have to mean paralysis. There are many policy and funding decisions that should not be delayed by the referendum outcome. For example, reforms to planning rules and wayleaves that would dramatically reduce costs and delays in rural communications infrastructure deployments should now be fast tracked. Meanwhile government must listen again and be willing to compromise on big initiatives such as the Apprenticeship Levy. Now is not the time to make the business environment any more difficult for tech businesses.

Work with business on a new digital strategy

A new digital strategy was expected to be published shortly and now needs to be re-written. The government should publish the existing strategy as a draft and seek inputs from business about how it can be made fit for purpose for the challenges and opportunities ahead. The UK has one chance to get this right. The approach must be strategic and comprehensive, looking at the whole of the UK’s tech ecosystem. It will fail if it is a collection of headline grabbing gimmicks.