This morning I took part in a breakfast discussion on the Lords Terrace (over orange juice and croissants, but fortunately under cover as it was pouring with rain) with Lord Young of Graffham and Lord Razzall about what can be done to re-energise the British technology sector. The occasion was the launch of the Micro Focus Technology Manifesto, “Making BrITain Great Again“. It was well-attended and the Q&A session at the end was lively and could clearly have continued for much longer.
The central theme was that Britain has the potential to generate a much larger proportion of its GDP from the technology innovation-driven sector and the manifesto is designed to kick-start a debate about what can usefully be done to create an environment in which the sector can thrive, expand and create new and sustainable jobs in the UK. The manifesto has five strands:
- increasing the supply of world-class technology talent in the UK
- harnessing the expertise and goodwill of successful leaders around the world to mentor leaders of UK-based emerging technology businesses
- changing substantially the tax incentives available to companies and individuals who want to invest in growing technology businesses in the UK
- implementing fiscal incentives for UK-based companies seeking to take forward world-leading R&D
- encouraging overseas technology companies to invest in a UK hub
I hope that the manifesto does kick-start a debate on these issues and that all the main Parties will commit to following the direction of travel indicated. Indeed, I would hope that the core principle would be readily endorsed. Future UK prosperity can only be sustained if the country is able to offer something significant to the world economy and that something in my view has to be that Britain is able to exploit innovation effectively and can deliver substantial value-added in technology and intellectual property. The UK will never compete by trying to cut wage costs to Third World levels, we no longer have a heavy manufacturing base and there is a limit to how much national income that can be generated from tourism and heritage. The only route to sustainability has to be through becoming a leading force in innovation and technology.
I remain concerned that too many young people do not see careers in technology as exciting, that too many further and higher education courses are irrelevant to the technology sector’s needs, and that for those who do emerge from further and higher education there are too few entry-level job/training opportunities. Moreover, as a country we do not do enough to foster entrepreneurialism, nor to support investment in innovative start-ups and to support the growth of such enterprises as they develop. The Micro Focus manifesto contains a number of suggestions as to how these issues may be addressed. I am sure it is not definitive, but the future of the UK economy requires that this debate starts now and is taken seriously.