techUK welcomes the unprecedented focus on the digital economy in the Conservative’s manifesto.
This is a manifesto focused on building a 21st century economy. However, many of the recommendations will need careful and balanced handling to ensure they do not tip the scales in the wrong direction. Now, more than ever, the UK needs the innovation and productivity growth that digital leadership will provide.
techUK additionally warns that meeting the ambition to make the UK the best place in the world for digital businesses to locate, scale and invest will be difficult to achieve if UK firms can’t access the best global talent.
Commenting, Antony Walker, deputy CEO of techUK, said:
“It is a political first to have such a significant focus on security and prosperity in the Digital Age. Tech firms will sit up and take note of this ambitious digital agenda.
“This manifesto puts securing the UK’s digital future at heart of the Conservative’s programme for Government. techUK applauds the recognition of opportunities and challenges in a digital age. The next Government will need to work closely with the tech industry to navigate the best possible path for the UK.
“Putting these commitments into practice will not be easy. There is a fine line between creating an enabling framework that supports a thriving digital nation and over reaching regulation that constrains the creativity of businesses and citizens. The UK cannot afford to get this wrong - one of the main reasons that the UK is a global tech hub is due to its environment of regulatory certainty and that must continue.”
Commenting on other aspects of the manifesto, Antony Walker said:
On the proposed Digital Charter, Framework for Data and International Agreement
“The proposed new Digital Charter, Framework for Data and international agreement will succeed if they each demonstrate how the UK intends to shape the digital future for the benefit of all, and build trust and confidence in the Digital Age. As the UK prepares to leave the EU, the recognition of the need to be at the forefront of setting global norms and a building a robust international legal framework is welcome. However, any new obligations placed on businesses should be proportionate and focused on practical solutions that address real problems. Government should listen hard to the experiences of businesses and recognise that there are limits to the obligations that can be reasonably placed on firms.”
On the Industrial Strategy and digital business growth
“The Conservative Government has led the way in setting out an ambitious long-term Industrial Strategy. This manifesto again stresses the importance of business, government and academia working together to drive innovation and growth.
“We welcome the strong focus on increasing R&D investment and tackling the UK’s productivity challenge. However, the Conservatives’ ambitions to create more scientists, increase international trade and make the UK the most attractive place to do business sit ill at odds with policies that target businesses’ ability to recruit and retain the best global talent.
“Above all, an Industrial Strategy that supports tech must be calibrated to a successful Brexit deal. The Conservatives’ commitment to long-lasting, comprehensive Free Trade and Customs agreements and their focus on securing the best possible deal is welcome. However, we are disappointed that there is no reference to the importance of securing a watertight legal framework for data flows between the UK and the EU, which will be vital for businesses of all sizes across the UK economy.
“techUK strongly supports the commitment to providing the British Business Bank with the funding it needs to actively support those innovative businesses with less access to traditional funding. This was a key recommendation of our 2017 Manifesto and is an important part of supporting innovation as the UK leaves the European Investment Fund.”
On digital skills, STEM and the Apprenticeship Levy
“The commitment to shift the UK workforce to a culture of lifelong learning, alongside a focus on digital skills, is highly welcome. Over the course of the next Government, businesses across the economy will have no choice but to use digital technologies to boost their productivity; having a world-leading digital workforce will be key to this. However, it will be important to maintain close dialogue with business and incentivise effective implementation.
“techUK strongly welcomes the recognition that businesses require far more flexibility from the Apprenticeship Levy, and the proposal that Levy funds will now be accessible if an employee requests training will be seen favourably.”
On doubling the Tier 2 Immigration Skills Charge
“The proposal to double the Immigration Skills Charge is unwelcome news for UK tech firms. Although the recognition of tech and digital as a strategically-important sector that will require a significant number of visas is welcome, doubling of the immigration skills charge is a retrograde tax on value-generating talent.
With domestic shortages in critical tech roles ever more pronounced, this move is another barrier for scaling companies accessing the talent they need to grow. Global Britain must be powered by a new wave of dynamic, innovative companies – now is not the time to pull up the drawbridge further.”
On making the UK the safest place to be online
“The UK tech sector shares the Conservative Party ambition to make the UK the safest place to be online. These proposals must be built on a clear evidence base and measures only just agreed in the Digital Economy Act 2017 should be given time to work. Any requirements placed upon private companies to take down content must be underpinned by a clear legal framework that is consistent with international norms, and the positive benefits of a global open internet.
“There is welcome recognition of the fundamental role education plays in allowing young people to stay safe online. Reforming the curriculum will be vital and techUK urges the next Government to place a strong emphasis on ‘digital resilience’. Technology companies build products to keep people safe online but the new Government must beware treating technological solutions as a silver bullet. This is a complex social issue where broad-bush policy solutions will fail to make the UK the safest place to be online.
“The UK’s security is paramount. Technology companies work hard to help the UK remain one step ahead of cyber and security threats, supporting the security services in keeping Britons safe. Terrorism must be tackled but essential tools such as end-to-end encryption cannot not be undermined - this would significantly undermine the security of the UK and its citizens.”
On digital government and public services
“The recognition that Government itself must be at the forefront of using digital technology is highly welcome. Digital transformation will be vital to creating a Smarter State - protecting public services amid rising public sector debt and demands on usage.
“The focus now must be on ensuring focused delivery, an effective refresh of the Verify programme, and ensuring that this scale of ambition happens at local as well as central government. As the UK exits the European Union, it is crucial that the UK has a public procurement environment which is open to new innovative solutions in public service delivery.”
“The desire to boost public trust in data use is to be praised. The digital revolution depends on public trust. techUK has been a vocal champion for an independent data ethics council and the next Government should make this a priority. Data is the lifeblood for the 21st century economy and the Smarter State and this institution would play a central role in creating a new social contract on the transformational power of data.”
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