As expected, Brexit continued to dominate the Queen’s Speech, with the legislative agenda seeing a return of the a EU Withdrawal Bill, Trade Bill and Immigration Bill that lapsed during prorogation. In addition, the Queen’s Speech saw the announcement of a range of other Bills and proposals that will have an impact on the UK tech sector.
With no working majority and an election anticipated in the near future the Prime Minister will be hard-pressed to pass the bulk of the announcements in the Speech. However, with the potential election it is important that action is taken in areas like immigration and trade to provide some level of certainty for businesses and individuals across the country.
techUK takes a look at some of the most interesting Bills and announcements from the Queen’s Speech and what they might mean for the UK tech sector.
The tech sector is committed to working with Government others to create a world-leading framework to combat online harms. Confirmation that the Government will publish draft legislation for pre-legislative scrutiny is incredibly welcome and something techUK has long campaigned for. With such wide-ranging implications on citizens fundamental rights and freedom of expression its critical that any Online Harms Bill undergoes the maximum level of scrutiny possible.
The implementation of a new points-based immigration system has been confirmed, but confusion remains. Despite hearing a lot about an Australian-style points based system, we are several months away from the Migration Advisory Committee review of how such a system will work in the UK.
techUK looks forward to the Government clarifying certain elements of the new future immigration system, as outlined in the Queen’s speech, including the ability to give EU citizens and their family members who apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to have a right of appeal against decisions made under the Scheme.
With more than 1.7 million applications under the scheme the Government must now do more to encourage the remaining 1.7 million people who haven’t applied for the Scheme before the December 2020 deadline, and examine closely the reasons for not giving any status yet to over 200,000 people who have applied. The key to building a post-Brexit immigration system that works for the whole economy is public trust and confidence in an effective system. The lack of transparency on why people have not been given status undercuts this.
techUK welcomes the renewed focus to further and technical education in the Queen’s speech, and looks forward to helping ensure our post-16 education system is well funded and organised in a way that enables young people and adults to gain the skills required for success and to help the economy. This funding has been long-awaited - a concerted effort at a national level to change the culture around lifelong learning is needed if we are to advance with technological changes.
Whilst place-based learning will always be a crucial part in the mix, we must use tech to turbocharge the availability of learning. There is an enormous amount of provision out there, but it is often small-scale, hard to find and difficult to navigate. In addition to increased funding the Government should co-ordinate these actions and make it easier for individuals to skill up.
Good Work Plan
The Taylor Review was an important step for ensuring the employment framework fits the needs of the modern economy, and the Good Work Plan represents the next step in this journey. For the tech sector, increased flexibility, platform-based work and technological advances have been part of the reason the tech sector grew 2.6 times faster than the wider UK economy last year.
Even beyond the tech sector the UK’s labour market is changing with new jobs and ways of working emerging across many sectors of the economy. Many of these jobs provide valuable opportunities and greater flexibility to people. However, the Government is right about the need to give greater clarity on the rights and protections available to workers undertaking these new roles.
The tech sector welcomes the implementation of the Good Work Plan and is keen to support its goal to ensure that workers are treated fairly. Technological innovation is crucial to developing the good, well paid jobs of the future. But innovation needs to work for everyone, which is why it is important that we get this right.
Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill
The Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill was an anticipated and necessary announcement for the Government’s ambition for full fibre connectivity by 2025, but does not go far enough. Many issues necessary to make this ambition a reality, from new builds to street works, have not been tackled by the Government’s Bill. Inevitably the devil will be in the detail but given the ambition placed on industry with the accelerated timeline we have not seen the same level of ambition from Government.
Science & Space
The UK Space Sector is growing, contributes about £15bn annually to GDP, and contains many of the high-skilled tech jobs the UK needs more of. techUK welcomes the Government’s increasing support for this sector, and the announcement of a National Space Council and comprehensive UK Space Strategy which could focus on the growth areas such as data analytics and in-orbit robotics.
The attractiveness of the UK’s R&D regime has been a key factor in both the development of world-leading UK tech companies and securing significant investment from the world’s most innovative tech companies. Steps to increase this attractiveness – from new ways of funding emerging research and technology, to increased access to talent – are highly welcome.
Combined with the commitment boost R&D funding to 2.4% and provide a framework for long-term certainty – something techUK has long campaigned for – these actions represent an important step in maintaining the UK as a global research superpower.
The speech announced the creation of a new Office for Environmental Protection, which will hold government to account in meetings the environmental and climate change legislation and targets it has set itself. Reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 is a bold legally binding ambition and one that digital technologies and transformation will play a crucial role in delivering.
The Environment Bill also has implications for manufacturers of the tech products we use every day. The Bill gives Defra powers to set product design requirements (so called eco-design) and provides the government with powers to reform existing producer responsibility systems, such as those in place for packaging, electricals & electronics and batteries.