What does a new Prime Minister mean for UK tech?

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Over the past six years, the United Kingdom has seen four different Prime Ministers – the country’s ‘elected’ leader has seemingly been updated with the same frequency as a programming language. British politics, and therefore policy, has been far from stable or predictable during this time.

The latest leader to make themselves at home at Number 10 is Liz Truss. While energy and the cost-of-living crisis is undoubtedly dominating her in-tray, there will be much more on her plate over the next two years. Maintaining the UK’s position as a global leader in technology will be a key priority for her government.

Tasked with leading the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is Michelle Donelan, who enters the role with just two days of experience as a Secretary of State. Her role is vast, covering everything from the UK’s hosting of Eurovision to shaping the country’s outlook on technology, and if you thought Prime Ministers were changing frequently, Donelan is the eleventh DCMS Secretary in 12 years.

So, what is on Truss’ and Donelan’s tech agenda?

Getting things going

Just days into the job, Truss was presented with a letter from a group of UK entrepreneurs calling on her to help drive growth among the country’s start-ups – more than 18,000 of which were tech-focused businesses in 2021. After the previously proposed Pitch@Palace was scrapped, nothing has since been brought in to replace it and UK start-ups are feeling short-changed.

So far, Truss has talked about the importance of entrepreneurship and job creation in repairing our economy. The implication would be that she sits firmly on the side of the start-ups, but we wait to see how her policies will help the UK’s emerging tech companies compete on a global stage.

Keeping our data safe

When the UK exited the European Union, it left behind the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Its replacement, the Data Protection and Digital Information bill (DPDI doesn’t have quite the same ring to it) was parked upon the resignation of Boris Johnson and the ensuing political circus that followed. In essence, the bill is less stringent than its EU-enforced predecessor, which could make it more difficult, and more costly, for the two policies to work in tandem should tensions rise.

Addressing the talent shortage

The UK’s tech sector is crying out for talent. In the third quarter of 2021, tech vacancies had grown by 191 per cent compared to the same period in 2020, with 64,000 vacancies needing to be filled. There are short-term and long-term solutions that Truss and her team need to consider, but thankfully it would seem that they have both been covered.

She has publicly denounced any proposed cap of immigration levels, meaning skilled technology professionals will still have access to opportunities in the UK through a variety of existing tech-friendly visas. That gives UK tech firms the opportunity to cast their net far and wide in the immediate search for talent.

Longer term, we know that the way to close the skills gap is to provide more opportunities in tech to more people. That’s what we’re doing and, while holding the position of Minister for Women and Equalities, Truss did similar, leading a taskforce that encouraged more women into STEM education. If she maintains her passion for the cause, then we can be hopeful that real steps are implemented in helping the sector close its talent gap.

For now, we sit and wait…

Nothing tends to happen too quickly in British politics – it can take years for motions to pass and changes to be implemented. The difference this time around is that Truss doesn’t have too long to make her mark, with less than 24 months until the next general election. The polls don’t make for pleasant reading for the current party in power, so if they are to turn the tides then Truss and her team have to make a big (and positive) impact in a relatively short space of time.

Joe Lycett might be reassured, but we doubt the tech industry is just yet.

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