Business

Dyson’s new £2.5bn Cotswold campus – a post-Brexit stronghold?

By Kitty Knowles 1 March 2017
James Dyson, a driver of British inventions
Summary

Dyson puts his money where his mouth is.

Last year, James Dyson – king of vacuum cleaners – stood out as a pro-Brexit business leader.

Now, he’s proving his commitment to British business, launching a new 500-acre campus in the Cotswolds.

The new artificial intelligence and robotics hub is part of a £2.5bn investment plan – the biggest investment in the UK by a technology firm since the Brexit vote.

“Hardware is hard”

The new campus – to be built on a former RAF airfield in Wiltshire – affirms Dyson’s foray into new technologies.

So far, the company has already expanded into hand dryers, air purifiers and supersonic hairdryers, but its future will lie in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).

Accenture predicts that AI could add £654bn to the British economy by 2035, and Dyson’s focus on batteries might even suggest it plans to move into electric driverless cars.

“We are very excited about the opportunities AI and greater connectivity will bring,” said Dyson.

“We’re now focused on software and writing algorithms as much as hardware. It’s the reverse of what companies such as Google are doing by getting into hardware from software but means we are coming from a position of great strength: it’s true that ‘hardware is hard’.”

Great for Britain?

Such an investment has obvious benefits to the creation of British jobs: the new hub is almost ten times the size of the company’s existing Malmesbury HQ making it one of the largest tech campuses in the world.

Dyson has already near-quadrupled its British workforce in the past five years, to employ 3,500 people (half of them engineers and scientists).

The latest investment is expected to add a further 14,000 jobs to this tally.

Putting a smile on Theresa May

Last night prime minister Theresa May praised Dyson’s announcement as a vote of confidence in post-Brexit Britain. This should come as no surprise – it fits perfectly in-line with May’s dream of a highly skilled tech workforce.

Yes, 95% of Dyson’s products are sold (and manufactured) abroad, but the argument is that Britain doesn’t need more factories. Dyson’s R&D hub backs an economy that promotes the British mind (great for graduates, less so if you’re blue collar).

Dyson’s answer is to help everyone attain the skills needed (it’s already seeking official university status for its Institute of Technology, which will offer free four-year degree courses and paid work experience from September).

“There’s a continued shortage of engineers … which we are attempting to tackle head-on through our new degrees, our work in schools and dialogue with government,” he said.

Dyson may have benefited from the weaker pound, but will its new tech stronghold boost tech in post-Brexit Britain? We certainly hope so.