Has Brexit damaged the ambitions of UK's tech sector?

21 January 2020 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read
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Brexit is fast approaching, with just one week left before the UK officially leaves the European Union (EU). Ritam Gandhi, founder and chief executive of digital consultancy Studio Graphene, reflects on how Brexit has impacted UK’s technology ambitions.

Volatility and uncertainty seem to offer the perfect description of the 2010s. Indeed, with four general elections and the massive shock (depending on where you live) of the 2016 EU Referendum, businesses and consumers have had to endure a rather unstable environment.

So, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “stonking” majority could be seen to offer a glimmer of hope that the UK may be able to see the fog of uncertainty beginning to clear. Regardless of one’s political leanings, the deadlock in Westminster will have been a cause of frustration for many. However, with the Brexit Bill finally ascending from the House of Commons to the House of Lords, many will see this as a decisive step towards the UK leaving the EU on 31st January 2020.

For many businesses, this step will mean that they can plan for the future with greater confidence. Although, this might not be the case for one of the UK’s younger sectors: the tech industry. Whilst a promising industry, its confidence and ambition has taken a knock in recent years. But what exactly is troubling the sector? 

Will Brexit damage UK's tech ambitions

The crux of the matter

For many within the UK tech industry, the main cause for concern is dwindling access to a skilled workforce. Indeed, recent research by Studio Graphene has revealed that 73% of UK tech startups are concerned that Brexit will have a negative impact on their ability to hire staff with the appropriate skill set within the next twelve months.

Such concerns could have a negative impact on growth ambitions. Of those surveyed by Studio Graphene, 69% are worried that Brexit will make it difficult to hire enough staff to enable their business to grow. Unsurprisingly, many are keen to see decisive action from the government to calm their fears. For example, 69% of startups would support the prime minister’s proposed points-based immigration system, provided it granted skilled tech workers easy access to the UK tech industry. 

These concerns are indeed worrying. However, the question is, will these worries dampen the growth ambitions of the tech sector in the long-term? 

Cautious optimism

Despite concerns of a potential tech skills gap, the outlook for most of the UK tech sector remains optimistic. Interestingly, three quarters (75%) of tech startups feel positive about their prospects over the next twelve months.

Whilst such optimism might come as a surprise, it is justified. In the first seven months of 2019 alone, the UK tech industry secured an average of $1 billion a month in investment. Given the high volatility throughout this period, this is an incredible achievement.

The tech sector certainly holds promise. Yet, its growth remains dependent on whether the government is willing to take decisive action. 

“The UK tech industry has shown real promise in the face of uncertainty; now we must ensure that its momentum continues.”
– Ritam Gandhi, Studio Graphene

Next steps

Whilst it may seem like an obvious starting point, the government must be clear in its commitment to work closely with the tech sector to better understand its needs. Only then can effective action be taken to calm the nerves of tech entrepreneurs. 

Such reassurance can be given in various ways. Firstly, the government must take steps to ensure international tech professionals have easy access to the UK job market. This will enable startups to make more concrete growth plans, as they will not need to concern themselves with potential gaps in the tech market, which could hinder their ambitions.

To ease nerves in the longer term, the government must invest in tech education, thereby nurturing future generations of home-grown experts. Such investment will ensure that young people leaving school, college or university will be able to enter the workforce with the skills they need to drive innovation and industry growth.

Of course, such changes will take time to implement. However, government commitment to supporting the tech sector will allow startups to plan for the future with confidence. The UK tech industry has shown real promise in the face of uncertainty; now we must ensure that its momentum continues.

Ritam Gandhi worked as a consultant for a decade for the likes of Accenture and Bank of America Merrill Lynch before founding Studio Graphene, a London-based agency that plans, designs and builds tech products.