Software boss recommends three tools after May's Brexit speech

A serial software entrepreneur reacted yesterday to prime minister Theresa May’s ‘Brexit speech’ by directing her to three tools he says can safeguard the UK technology industry.

Richard Muirhead, a bitcoin pioneer who is also a tech venture capital investor, said the trio must be put in place quickly if Britain is to remain a leader in science and innovation, which the PM pledged.

First, the UK must make it “easier to attract, recruit and retain top talent,” he said, in light of the government moving to protect its borders as a priority of the UK leaving the single market.

“That means significantly expanding the fast-track visa programmes,” said Muirhead. “And [it means] giving academic talent the possibility and comfort to choose Britain’s universities as their home for research.”

Second, the UK government must itself become a more “sophisticated” customer of UK-based tech companies, said the entrepreneur, and it must encourage businesses “large and small” to do the same.

But Mrs May’s comments in a follow-up speech to business leaders in Davos yesterday might unsettle some companies.

She spoke of a “change -- setting clear rules for businesses to operate by,” on issues such as tax, their obligations to workers and “duties to their…supply chains.”

This interventionist approach by the prime minister is expected to be fleshed out on Monday when she unveils a Modern Industrial Strategy for UK enterprise.

The approach seems to suggest that companies and corporations will not be allowed to operate as freely as before.

“We can’t leave all this to international market forces alone, or just rely on an increase in overall prosperity,” the PM braved, addressing the bosses. “Instead, we have to be practical and proactive – in other words, we have to step up and take control”.

Fortunately for Muirhead, currently a partner at software company venture capitalists OpenOcean, Mrs May also said that the UK would be “open to investment in our companies.”

Indeed, he says the third policy that the UK needs to adopt to safeguard its IT leadership role it is exactly that -- continuing to incentivise seed investment, such as by using tax breaks.

Some of the PM’s comments suggest she’s receptive. “Our strategy is not about propping up failing industries or picking winners, but creating the conditions where winners can emerge and grow,” she said.  “It is about backing those winners all the way to encourage them to invest in the long-term future of Britain.”

But in Davos listening to her speeches, Muirhead thinks that Mrs May should have gone further. “I don't believe that the statements from the government have yet been sufficient for firms to confidently invest in UK tech.”

He added: “And probably this will not be enough. EU funding for UK-based funds will most likely be withheld in the upcoming negotiations The PM must now look to provide clarity in the coming weeks on how this objective [keeping the UK a global leader in tech and innovation] …will be achieved.”

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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