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One-size-fits all policy is not appropriate for tech sector

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Indeed, it will come as little surprise to Brits that two of the most successful tech clusters in the UK are based in Cambridge and London’s TechCity, with the South East receiving 54 per cent of angel investor funding in 2012/13 and 58 per cent of total investment. 

A Policy Exchange report outlines that “many writers and commentators have argued that to develop successful tech clusters, governments should emulate the world’s most renowned example: Silicon Valley”. 

It explains that a one-size-fits all policy is not appropriate. And here’s why: the tech cluster in the Leeds/Sheffield area focuses on financial services, digital industries, telecommunications & network infrastructure; Manchester/Salford focus on sciences and material science and Newcastle/Sunderland’s success is driven by the quality of video game design courses. No-one is the same!

So Policy Exchange has recommend a policy focus geared toward tech clusters rather than individual companies, they say: “because of the positive externalities that tech clusters provide for their constituent members. These externalities range from de-risking entrepreneurial activity by providing workers and entrepreneurs with a choice of other geographically close employment options, to the increased attention given by angel investors or venture capitalists to clusters of firms where multiple investment opportunities exist”.

Once again, no report about tech can escape the simple fact that there’s a chronic skills shortage in the UK’s technology industry. And while steps taken by the Information Economy Council to get 100,000 young people pursuing technology careers by 2018 are certainly movements in the right direction, they do not go far enough. Changes to visa regulations now also make it harder to employ skilled immigrants, leading to a decline in international students entering STEM subjects at UK universities. 

In line with recent techUK campaigning on creating the right environment to get talent into the UK’s tech firms, Policy Exchange made some notable recommendations. Foremost, the government should work with the technology industry to make the case for greater levels of immigration from highly-skilled migrants working in the technology sector and that the two-year Post-Study Work Visa for students receiving good degrees in STEM subjects should be reinstated. Universities should also be encouraged to let students retain Intellectual Property of products, services and ideas they create while studying

Furthermore, the government should consider introducing directly elected city mayors with appropriately devolved powers to lead economic growth in their areas – including the development of tech clusters.

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