PM reveals fresh investments in "thriving" tech sector

Tier 1 visas will double, as Tech City UK gets national remit

Prime minister Theresa May announced a string of measures today aimed at bolstering the tech sector ahead of Brexit.

It will be investing 21 million into its startup quango, Tech City UK, as well as doubling the number of visas the UK offers to skilled foreign workers, amid fears that Brexit will cut off the country's access to a digitally-skilled workforce from abroad.

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"Technology is at the heart of our modern Industrial Strategy, and we will continue to invest in the best new innovations and ideas, in the brightest and best talent, and in revolutionary digital infrastructure," said May.

"And as we prepare to leave the European Union, I am clear that Britain will remain open for business. That means government doing all it can to secure a strong future for our thriving tech sector and ensure people in all corners of our nation share in the benefits of its success."

Startup investment

Tech City UK, a primarily London-focused organisation with a remit to develop digital skills and support growing businesses, will rebrand as Tech Nation as a single body covering the entirety of the UK.

Instead of focusing on the development of tech in isolated areas, Tech Nation will be a national organisation designed to encourage startup growth outside of the capital. The 21 million is expected to be invested over the next four years.

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As part of the investment, the body will aim to provide 40,000 people with the chance to develop the digital skills needed to start their own businesses, while support will also be offered to 4,000 existing tech businesses through targeted growth programmes.

Tech Nation will also be tasked with encouraging businesses to engage with emerging technology trends, including artificial intelligence and fintech, by enabling them to connect with potential investors and development schemes.

"This new funding is an important part of our plans to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business, with the benefits spread right across the country," said Matt Hancock, minister for digital.

"This regional network will accelerate the growth of the digital tech sector, cement the pipeline of talent and spark the next generation of innovative firms to seize the future opportunities of digitisation - bringing jobs, skills and higher productivity to our regions."

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Tech Nation will be formed of 11 regions in the UK, the first of which have been identified as Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow, Belfast, Cardiff and London, with more due to be announced in the Budget speech on 22 November.

Doubling Tier 1 visas

In a bid to encourage more talent from overseas, the government is also doubling the number of Tier 1 visas being offered from 1,000 to 2,000, although this number includes all 'exceptional talent' and is not exclusively tied to the tech industry.

"Doubling the number of tech visas is a welcome and practical step towards supporting the UK's fastest growing sector," said Antony Walker, deputy CEO of industry lobby group TechUK. "As our economy continues to digitise, more and more businesses depend upon tech talent to support their growth. This isn't just a London phenomenon. There is going to be huge demand for tech skills in businesses right across the country."

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However, Walker added that the government not only needs to expand the number of visas available for highly skilled talent, but needs to make the process of securing talent easier for businesses.

"For the announcement to be truly valuable, the government must couple it with further flexibility on Tier 2 high skilled talent. It must also address concerns about the speed and costs associated with Tier 1 and 2 visas to ensure they can be used by companies large and small," he said.

"International tech talent makes a huge contribution to the UK economy. For every ten highly skilled jobs that are created an additional four lower skilled jobs are created. The tech sector is increasingly the backbone of the economy, and making sure it can thrive post-Brexit is in everyone's interest."

Broadband investment

As part of the digital push, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport also announced a 2 million incentive to increase the number of businesses taking up gigabit fibre connections, as part of its 23 billion National Productivity Investment Fund.

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Internet suppliers in Aberdeenshire, Bristol, Bath, North East Somerset, Coventry, and West Yorkshire Combined Authority, which includes Leeds and York, will be able to sign up to the scheme and offer local business customers vouchers worth between 500 and 3,000, which can be used to cover installation costs.

More details will be revealed in the Budget speech expected on 22 November. 

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