Thursday, December 8

UK to unveil new digital strategy to nurture technology sector

The UK is preparing to unveil a set of technology-focused policies this month covering artificial intelligence, quantum computing and digital health, as the government tries to bolster London’s start-up scene following Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials across Whitehall are working on proposals to boost Britain’s digital economy, and some policies could be unveiled in London’s Tech Week, which starts on June 13, according to people briefed on the plans.

Downing Street is expected to host a dinner with tech bosses and venture capital firms to encourage investment in the UK.

Business lobby groups have called for an overarching digital strategy by the government to boost the tech industry. The CBI last month said that ministers needed to “unlock investment in digital” and “build business confidence and willingness to invest” by publishing a strategy.

Some tech bosses say they lack easy access to talented workers since Brexit and the introduction of tighter immigration controls, while others are concerned about the health of the sector following the Covid-19 crisis, even though chancellor Rishi Sunak provided financial support for start-ups during the pandemic.

Semiconductor policy is also being targeted by the government who last month announced a review of a Chinese-owned company’s takeover of Newport Wafer Fab © Crown copyright/Visit Wales

The department for digital, culture media and sport is due to publish a digital strategy that draws together many of the government’s existing tech policies into one document, according to people familiar with the contents of the 50 page paper.

The strategy is expected to say the UK needs to strengthen its position as a global science and tech superpower, highlighting areas including AI, quantum computing and next generation semiconductors.

The department for digital, culture, media and sport is preparing to outline plans to increase investment in AI. The business department has meanwhile been working on proposals to increase resources in quantum computing.

One key policy is digital health and the use of data by the NHS. Health secretary Sajid Javid wants to tackle health inequalities by using data to identify where disparities exist and allocate resources on this basis, according to one person briefed on his plans.

Separate government work is being carried out on a semiconductor policy, amid industry concerns that the UK is losing ground to countries in Asia to design and produce chips.

A promo photo for London Tech Week
Some policies could be unveiled in London’s Tech Week, which starts on June 13 © London Tech Week

The government last month announced a review of a Chinese-owned company’s takeover of Newport Wafer Fab, a Welsh manufacturer of silicon wafers used in the production of semiconductors.

The prime minister also last month joined efforts to try to persuade chip designer Arm to list in London, even though owner SoftBank is planning for an IPO in New York.

The government wants the London stock exchange to become the “go-to” trading platform for IPOs by tech companies.

Ministers also want to nurture a new slew of start-ups by prioritising their access to growth capital.

Other EU cities are pressing ahead with attempts to woo start-ups. Similar events to London Tech Week are being held in Paris, Amsterdam, Dublin, Berlin and Barcelona at the same time.

The department for digital, culture, media and sport declined to comment.

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