Te annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Conference focuses on the biggest opportunities and challenges facing UK businesses, so it is no surprise that technology, disruption and innovation are at the centre of the 2016 event.
From Prime Minister Theresa May to Facebook’s EMEA VP, the speakers addressed all aspects of how rapid advances in the technology world will impact on the future of business. CBR looks at some of the big tech talking points from the event.
1. Investing in innovation
The headliner was the PM Theresa May, who announced increases in government research and development (R&D) spending of £2 billion per year by 2020.
May also announced an Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to back priority technologies such as robotics and biotechnology.
In addition, May announced a review of tax incentives in R&D to boost UK competitiveness.
Paul Drechsler, CBI President, had called on the government in his welcome address to commit to spending 3 percent of GDP on research and development by 2025.
However, Carolyn Fairbarn, CBI director-general, welcomed May’s “pro-enterprise” speech.
The opposition party Labour went on the offensive, with Shadow Business Secretary Clive Lewis saying that the proposed investment was “woefully inadequate and risks being too little too late”.
Lewis said that “six wasted years of Tory Government” had led to a long-term productivity problem, adding that the new commitment left the country below the 3 percent GDP target suggested by the OECD and below the average in other countries.
However, the speeches show signs of an emerging cross-party consensus that the Government should be taking an active role in backing UK innovation.
2. Businesses up innovation spending
This is all well and good from government, but what are businesses doing to invest in R&D? Kit Burden, Global Co-Head of the Technology Sector at DLA Piper, said that “whilst Government funding is always helpful, the main drive for British R&D will always come from the private sector.”
Well, the CBI had an answer: 70 percent of respondents to a CBI survey said that they planned to maintain or increase their innovation spending after leaving the EU, while 7 percent were reducing it.
Customer service and product development were cited by 24 percent and 30 percent of respondents respectively as key areas that would benefit from greater innovation.
44 percent of firms thought that the main benefit of automation was increased productivity while 24 percent believed it was an improved product or service and 15 percent higher customer satisfaction.
The survey also found that 48 percent of companies believed that they would need more skilled staff.
3. Securing the future
From the opportunities to the dangers: security company Advanced brought to the conference the sobering figure that 26 percent of British businesses have no protection against cyber attacks.
“Cyber resilience is a growing priority for all businesses, and the challenge now is to move from awareness to action,” said Tom Thackray, CBI Director for Innovation.
The report also recorded 46 percent of UK professionals saying that data security was not a deciding factor in adopting digital technology.
The report surveyed 1006 UK professionals.
4. Tech and taxes in post-Brexit Britain
The UK’s vote to leave the European Union, in defiance of the expectations of many pundits and analyst, as well as against the will of many British businesses, has led to uncertainty about its future.
But advocates of leaving the EU, who have maintained that the UK could be a successful trading nation as a non-member, were given a boost by Facebook’s affirmation of confidence in the country in EMEA VP Nicola Mendelsohn’s address to the CBI.
Facebook will expand its UK workforce by 50 percent, she said, praising the UK as “one of the best places” for technology companies to set up.
This follows a similar announcement by Google recently that it will open a new headquarters building in London, with its office space in Kings Cross set to more than double.
These firms, that have faced controversy over their tax operations, may be looking to potential give-aways in post-Brexit Britain. Electronics giant Apple has recently been slapped with a huge bill in back-taxes after the EU concluded that the company’s arrangements in Ireland constituted illegal state aid.
In theory, outside the EU Britain could allow organisations to arrange their tax affairs however they want without fear of regulatory intervention.