Last week, Theresa May finally outlined how she expects the UK to achieve a clean Brexit. While the sterling rallied ever so slightly after the Conservative leader’s speech, it still left businesses wondering exactly how Britain will continue to compete on a world stage without access to the single market. In a bid to instill confidence, May has revealed her industrial strategy to ensure Blighty’s prosperity for decades to come.
Given that Britain is home to almost a third of European tech firms, it’s hardly surprising that investing in technology would be central to the government’s plan. To further bolster the sector’s success rate, Downing Street announced a new £4.7bn fund to pay for research and development into smart energy technologies, robotics, artificial intelligence and 5G mobile network technology.
And highlighting how important it is that the entire country is successful, “not just the most prosperous places in London and the South East”, May announced several plans aimed at strengthening institutions that support each region’s specific strengths and revealed that the government will invest £556m as part of its Northern Powerhouse project.
But while we wait for ministers to come back with more specific proposals after a consultation period, not everyone is impressed with what we’ve see so far. Though the paper did include several new initiatives, the Financial Times pointed out that many of the plans “were a recap of existing government programmes, initiatives and funding streams.” For instance, the bid to invest in 5G technology was something that Philip Hammond, the chancellor of the exchequer, had already laid out in his autumn statement.
No wonder then that the response from some parts of corporate Britain has been lukewarm at best. For instance, Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, the trade union, said: “Above all, the greatest support the government could provide UK jobs and business is to commit to access to the single market and the customs union. Without this access, manufacturing is going to be seriously hobbled.”
But others like Philip Lacor, vice president of EMEA at Dropbox, the file-hosting tech firm, were slightly more optimistic. “Today’s pledge to improve the nation’s digital infrastructure is key to ensuring the UK continues to grow and innovate,” he said. “Whether by boosting collaboration to strengthen business networks or improving employee productivity through agile working – technology is critical to propelling the UK forward.”
Given this mixed bag of reactions, it seems that it’s up to the prime minister to prove that her strategy will work for big corporates and startups alike.