Industry cautiously welcomes May's £2bn tech investment pledge
This article first appeared on www.channelweb.co.uk - 21st November 2016
Prime Minister Promises The Inject Cash Into Tech And Science, But Channel Firms Insist Skills Are As Important As Cash
Technology companies and channel firms have welcomed the prime minister's plans to invest £2bn per year into technology and science research and development, but said that the skills gap needs to be addressed at the highest level before the money can be put to good use.
This morning, prime minister Theresa May pledged that the government would invest £2bn per year by 2020 into research and development into "cutting-edge scientific and technological discovery". Robotics, artificial intelligence, satellites and biotechnology were some of the priority areas highlighted by May as being ripe for investment.
"Despite its strengths in science, Britain has until now been relatively weak on commercialisation, meaning that all too often ideas developed in this country end up being commercialised elsewhere," said a government statement, adding it will now consult on how to commercialise the emerging fields it has earmarked.
Technology industry onlookers have welcomed the multi-billion-pound investment but stressed that closing the UK's skills gap is equally important to cash.
Gordon Wilson, CEO of Advanced, told CRN he welcomes the "net new" money being invested into the tech space.
"It is a great start and will provide a much-needed boost to drive innovation," he said. "It's all very well having an extra £2bn [per year] but if we don't have the people to execute and make it happen, the £2bn investment can't happen. There needs to be a strong emphasis on grass-roots digital skills in the curriculum. Only if we take a holistic approach can we address the skills gap, and without this [the investment] is useless."
Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates, agreed that nurturing technology talent is as essential as finance.
"While today's announcement is welcomed by the UK tech community, there are still issues where the prime minister must provide more detail and reassure entrepreneurs," he said. "Research from the CBI today shows that two thirds of UK firms are concerned about access to talent, and the prime minister needs to further spell out how her proposal to allow UK firms access to the best international talent while reducing overall immigration."
Another tech onlooker to welcome the investment is serial tech investor Martin Leuw, former CEO of IRIS Software, who went on to invest in a range of sustainable tech social enterprises.
He said the government needs to provide more detail on exactly how it wants to help the technology and science sectors.
"It was a speech full of soundbites, but short on detail of how anything will work?" he asked. "The new commitment to spend £2bn a year on R&D and innovation is encouraging news - but it's not clear how and when this will be injected. More urgency is required on this front. And we already have a system of R&D tax credits - why can't we build on that as soon as possible, rather than reinvent the wheel?"
Leuw added that he would like to see May talk more about further collaboration between business, universities and charities, insisting more needs to be done to boost the case for social enterprises.
Open-source software consultancy Zaizi's CEO Aingaran Pillai also said the £2bn per year investment is a good start, but said it's essential that SMEs can reap the benefits of it too.
"Theresa's May's pledge to invest billions of pounds into technology is great news for SMEs that work tirelessly to bring new innovation to the UK economy," he said. "What the government needs to ensure, is that the majority of this money trickles down into the economy to ensure that these smaller businesses are encouraged to continue this innovation as part of larger government contracts."
"If one of the government's core focuses is on technology, they need to lead by example and ensure that their systems and the data they process are as efficient as possible. By investing some of this money into businesses that can help achieve this, the UK can truly take a step towards becoming the global business leader the prime minister speaks so often about."