Brexit: Tech leaders including Brent Hoberman, Niklas Zennström, Kathryn Parsons have written an open letter to Theresa May.
The British tech community has long been open about the damage it fears Brexit may cause.
Now, some of Europe’s most-renowned tech leaders chave called on Theresa May to hear their concerns – with a list of direct and informed demands.
A letter signed by entreprenuers including Made.com’s Brent Hoberman, Skype’s Niklas Zennström, and Decoded’s Kathryn Parsons details 10 recommendations that must be considered for Britain to leave the EU in the most successful way possible.
Unveiled at TechCrunch Disrupt yesterday, this has also gained backing from Sherry Coutu, chairman of Founders4Schools, Dale Murray, co-founder Omega Logic, Edward Wray, co-founder of Betfair, and Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent Drinks.
The recommendations come on the back of TechCrunch’s London Brexit Sentiment Survey, which highlighted huge concerns amongst UK tech founders about access to talent post-Brexit.
They address concerns over: skilled migration, education, investment, business incentives, promotion of the UK, diversity, single market access, market stimulants, and international policy.
When it comes to skills, the manifesto calls for secure visas for current tech workers, and new STEM passports to allow bright innovators to study at British universities, live and work in the UK.
It asserts that the Government must foster the next generation of “digital skills” and extend its Startup Loans scheme to allow young people to start their businesses as early as possible.
Recommended changes to investment also include a reform of Research & Development tax credits and increase the Government’s investment in R&D.
The letter continues to outline a number of business incentives Prime Minister May should adopt, including allowing small businesses tax rebates, and rewarding large corporates that support and invest in startups.
The leaders also appeal for the need of a ‘Tech Britain Is Open’ campaign, and greater incentivising to increase gender diversity on corporate boards.
Finally, the government should campaign for access not just to the Single Market, but also the EU’s Digital Single Market, say the lobbyists.
They welcome a similar scheme to the EU Startup Passport, and greater willingness for Government organisations like the NHS, Bank of England, and Transport for London to partner and work with startups.
They’d like to see more entrepreneurs encouraged to go into government (as with the White House’s Entrepreneurial Fellows), ask that Britain should still be able to share data with the EU/US.
Theresa May may say that ‘Brexit means Brexit’. We hope these business smart and socially-minded leaders help to shape what that actually means.
The full letter can be read below:
Dear Rt Hon Theresa May MP,
Despite these uncertain times, the British high-growth technology sector needs certainty from the UK government when it comes to a number of issues in order to continue its world-class status.
Britain has attracted some great entrepreneurs from around the world who have started businesses in the UK. It is imperative that the government recognises the need to attract and retain the very best talent globally.
Right now the UK is the destination for European tech talent, attracting almost 50% more searches for tech jobs than Germany, its nearest rival (research by Balderton Capital). Meanwhile, the tech sector is creating jobs faster than any other industry, with the UK growing 50% faster than the European average (according to Atomico’s ‘The State of European Tech 2016’).
UK startups require a commitment from the government that the investment drive of the last few years will continue in order for UK startups to maintain their lead in many areas. It is important for all the UK’s business sectors that the tech sector continues to flourish, since all business now runs on and is affected by technology.
We would like the UK government to make a clear statement on the below issues, which would do much to ensure the tech sector isn’t damaged by recent rhetoric.
The visas of skilled tech workers from strong tech nations (USA, India, Commonwealth, Eastern Europe) need to be preserved post-Brexit.
It is essential that British universities remain an attractive place to study for non-British and British citizens alike.
To that end we would like the UK government to implement a “STEM Passport.”
Ensure the UK is open and welcoming toward skilled workers; is still able to recruit the best skills and entrepreneurial talent across Europe, with minimal barriers to movement; and that existing migrant workers are allowed to stay and continue to work in the UK. The UK professional developer population is currently the largest in Europe, at 745,000 out of 4.7 million (Atomico research) and is the No.1 destination for inbound tech talent (Balderton research).
The UK government should take a zero tolerance policy approach to hate crime, sending a signal to our diverse workforce that all are welcome.
The No. 1 concern for entrepreneurs post-Brexit is access to talent, in particular technical talent. Hiring through existing visa processes is timely and expensive. Quotas on specific skills could severely limit the ability of new tech companies to grow, as well as limit the ability of British skilled students to learn alongside other global experts.
We must give STEM graduates from leading universities an instant qualifying visa to live and work in the UK, and end the uncertainty where they must leave and later re-apply.
Ensure that fast-growing tech companies can continue to hire the best talent quickly.
Continue to make the UK’s universities highly attractive to study at for STEM subjects, as students will not fear being forced to instantly leave the country after graduation. The UK already has many of the world’s leading computer science institutions, including Oxford, Imperial, UCL, Edinburgh and Cambridge.
The government should look again at whether linking visa applications with the requirement to attain capital investment is the best way to retain skilled talent.
Plug a skill gap in STEM present in the UK while more investment is made into education in this space.
The government could create an ‘easy win’ with the promotion of a scheme to make awards to young brilliant engineers to relocate to the UK. This would send the right signals to the world and help to avoid any ‘brand damage’ done by recent government rhetoric around immigration.
We support government, business and start-ups working together to formulate a domestic strategy which will foster the next generation of “digital skills”. Making the UK the most dynamic and innovative place for technology education across coding, data, cyber security and entrepreneurial skills. Harnessing the power of technology to enable access to high quality education and skills for all. Finally it should extend its Startup Loans scheme to allow young people to start their businesses as early as possible.
While the panel welcomes the announcement by the government on R&D investment, it would welcome reform to the R&D tax credits to help the share of both private and public R&D expenditure to increase (compared to other OECD countries the UK lags behind).
While the BBB has been effective, the government must address any shortfall that occurs after the withdrawal of EIF funds through the British Business Bank.
Allow small startups a tax rebate if their business rates make up more than, for example, 5% of their overhead expenses.
Expand Enterprise Zones or add more.
Reward large corporates that do more to support and invest in startups. In France, the association ‘SME Pact’ facilitates relations between SMEs and large companies, public or private, allowing the emergence of ‘mid-cap’ and ‘scale-up’ companies from the best SMEs.
PROMOTION OF THE UK
Launch a campaign that ‘Tech Britain Is Open’ to complement the Mayor of London’s current efforts with ‘London Is Open,’ where greater emphasis is put on the technology sector.
The government should incentivise and encourage tech firms to increase the range of gender diversity on their corporate boards, where they haven’t done so before.
Government should advocate and take a lead in encouraging events and organisations that promote cohesiveness in civil society.
SINGLE MARKET ACCESS
The government should campaign for access not just to the Single Market, but also the EU’s Digital Single Market.
The government should lobby for a similar scheme to the EU Startup Passport as a means to creating a simple and competitive legal framework for corporate, labour, tax/fiscal incentives, stock options and bankruptcy matters.
Regulatory arbitrage on matters such as blockchain, sharing economy, drones, fintech, etc, has set a positive message and should be continued. For instance, London is the number one city on Europe or talent in Artificial Intelligence.
Accelerate the work the NHS, Bank of England, Open Data Institute, London Transport, etc, on ensuring government can be a customer of startups
Ensure the R&D fund supports the industries of the future (artificial intelligence, robotics, medtech/big data) with tech industry having input.
Govtech: Encourage more entrepreneurs to second themselves into government (similar to the White House’ Entrepreneurial Fellows).
Government should highlight the benefits of tech not just to the privileged few but the whole country and demonstrate that it isn’t just startups but large corporates and big industrial employers which will owe their future growth to a vibrant tech sector.
The UK stands to benefit by continuing to engage the world’s tech giants, ensuring that the UK offer remains world-beating and sending an unequivocal signal that the needs of the digital economy will always be addressed. The world’s leading tech companies are known to be building deep tech engineering centres in the UK (Atomico research).
Data is the lifeblood of the digital economy. The UK must ensure it allows its companies to be either part of the EU data regime or the US, or it can employ rules largely compatible with either or both. Britain must be data-savvy.
For the future of our next generation and the benefit of the UK, we hope you will take urgent action on our points highlighted above.
Brent Hoberman CBE
Dale Murray CBE
Richard Reed CBE
Sherry Coutu CBE
Sonali De Rycker
Kitty Knowles is a Senior Features Writer at The Memo. Kitty previously worked as an online journalist for GQ. She can be found tweeting @KittyGKnowles.