With the General Election just around the corner, what is the UK tech industry hoping for from the manifesto’s of the main parties? Giles Thorpe, managing director, CC Engineering, gives an insiders view.
Given the main parties have already kicked off their election campaigns I am keen to ensure the UK tech industry, especially small to medium size businesses like mine, get a clear voice in the debates.
As the head of a fiercely independent, mid-sized UK IT services company with a passionate belief in our home-grown tech industry I have talked to customers, partners and peers about the election, and there is a real sense of optimism. The combination of technology and the drive of ambitious SMEs can have an extremely positive effect on our economy and society.
Regardless of who wins the election companies in the tech industry will be competiing for government bids. At the end of the process someone wins. Sometimes it can feel that you were hard done by with the result, but it can be more than that. If you think you have a serious gripe you can start a bid protest, this link explains more: https://www.whitcomblawpc.com/practice-areas/government-contract/bid-protests
Our home grown IT industry can play a critical role in improving social well-being and economic stability at a time of huge pressure on public coffers and it is my hope the 2015 election makes entrepreneurship, especially technology entrepreneurship, a key priority. Here’s what I, and many in the industry, are hoping for in the election:
In particular I would like to see how the parties can help UK SMEs achieve business resilience against such uncertain geo-political and macro-economic issues. While no politician has a magic wand, this resilience is affected by key decisions the next Government makes in areas such as the ones below.
Supporting SME ambitions
I find it frustrating that small businesses are depicted as companies with small ambitions. Micro-businesses are an integral part of the UK economy, but I meet clients of ours every week, who are hugely ambitious. Government research such as the ‘Scale-Up’ Report are to be commended, but actions speak louder than words. The Cabinet Office made a commitment that 25% of all Government contracts would go to SMEs by 2015 – that is an ambitious goal, but it’s a very real way for small businesses to access central and local Government contracts.
Confusing regulation with politics
While I do not wish to insert myself into the debate around taxation I do have concerns about the inconsistent position Europe is taking on regulation. For example, the Snowden revelations rightly provoked a need to review data privacy policies, but overly stringent controls could have significant consequences for European businesses, particularly smaller ones.
Skills, skills, skills
This is not going to go away as we add ever more sophistication to the type of products and services we sell to maintain our competitive differentiation and advantage. All parties recognise the need to enhance the skills of school leavers and university graduates. We have it taken it upon ourselves to offer a form of undergraduate apprenticeship to help meet our future needs, but the next administration needs to be supportive through education initiatives, workplace training and sensible visa policies.
Keeping pace with technology
As a cloud computing service provider we see technology disruption every day, but more importantly we see the opportunities for UK small businesses. Understandably, the next Government cannot invest in every new technology, but it can make sure the basic infrastructure and regulatory framework is right for British companies to be successful – for example ensuring nationwide 4G broadband coverage.
Placing big bets
Initiatives such as the Catapult centres have acted as a means to focus attention on specific technology areas, and the next Government needs to remain consistent in its approach following its election victory. While the Government cannot act as a market maker it can foster conducive market conditions. More importantly it can avoid being distracted by every trend and encourage UK businesses that place bets on technologies, which deliver real benefits to customers and the economy.
Be a role model
There has been huge debate about central and local Government procurement, much of it critical. With a number of major Government outsourcing contracts coming to an end it will be very important for the next leadership to hold firm to the goal of greater procurement from smaller businesses. Like the Cabinet Office’s initiative, the Home Office’s ReSET4 programme is designed to ensure central Government moves away from reliance on the major systems integrators. It is incumbent on Government to be the champion for small business and give them the opportunities to secure lucrative contracts.
Perhaps a more important function of being a role model is as an educator and evangelist encouraging the adoption of innovative and effective technologies. The next administration could do more to demonstrate Government is leading by example. The Government’s Chief Technology Officer recently revealed that only a quarter of civil servants have access to the open Internet and significant numbers are still using browsers and operating systems more than 10 years old. Government has always played a key role as investor and educator and that will be critical in the next Parliament.