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January 27, 2023

Jeremy Hunt wants the UK to be the next Silicon Valley. His government’s policies aren’t helping

The Chancellor reiterated his ambition in a speech today. But the government legislative programme must support this goal.

By Matthew Gooding

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt reiterated his desire to turn the UK into “the world’s next Silicon Valley” in a speech today, and says he believes it is a realistic long-term ambition for the nation.

Jeremy Hunt believes the UK can become the next Silicon Valley. (Photo courtesy of HM Treasury Flickr)

In a wide-ranging speech this morning, Hunt heaped praise on the UK’s technology companies, and said his government is committed to a long-term vision to develop the sector.

Hunt’s comments echo those he first made in November’s autumn statement, but the speech did not include any new proposals to back the tech sector.

Jeremy Hunt speech: Innovation is the UK’s ‘golden thread’

In the speech, delivered at Bloomberg’s London headquarters to an audience of executives from giants such as Amazon and Meta, as well as representatives of UK tech businesses, Hunt said innovation was “the golden thread” running through the UK’s business successes.

“Tech is vital for Britain’s economic future,” he said, before appealing to the tech industry “help turn the UK into the world’s next Silicon Valley”.

Hunt added that he believes this is both “ambitious and strategic”, but remains achievable. “If anyone is thinking of starting or investing in an innovation or technology-centred business, I want them to do it here,” he said.

“I want the world’s tech entrepreneurs, life science innovators and green tech companies to come to the UK because it offers the best possible place to make their visions happen.

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“If you do, we will put at your service British ingenuity, British Universities and a British government that will back you to the hilt.”

Hunt, who took up the role of Chancellor in October, said this was a long-term project for his government. “We know that we have to deliver on our [short-term] priorities,” he said.

“But we know if we want to unlock our potential we have to do more than that, and this isn’t a project that is going to happen in the next 18 months, or the timespan before the next election. But this is an incredible opportunity for us as a country and we just have to grab it.

“Our aspiration to be a tech superpower is both ambitious and achievable.”

Can the UK become the world’s next Silicon Valley?

Hunt did not outline any additional support for the tech sector in his speech, which comes against a backdrop of rising inflation, the cost of living crisis and sluggish economic growth, with many experts predicting the country will enter a recession this year.

He pointed out that the government had protected its £20bn research budget, and said the City of London is one of the world’s top-two financial hubs. He also cited the brainpower of UK universities as a reason for tech businesses to set up here.

The Chancellor will deliver his budget in March, when he may reveal more details of support to help the tech sector grow.

However, despite these lofty ambitions, much of the government’s legislative programme relating to tech has been mired in delay and controversy.

In November Hunt rowed back on plans to scrap reforms to the IR35 tax rules. The reforms will place a significant additional administrative burden on tech companies who work with contractors when they come into force in April.

It has paused work on the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, the UK’s post-Brexit replacement for GDPR, to allow further consultation. While the Online Safety Bill, designed to keep users safe online, has been criticised by IT professionals as “not fit for purpose” and raised fears over the threat it poses to the security of end-to-end encryption.

The government has yet to lay out a timetable for its quantum technologies strategy, while MPs have accused it of “overlooking” the UK semiconductor industry, with a long-promised blueprint for the sector, seen as an industry of strategic importance by governments around the world, yet to materialise. This week, industry leaders wrote an open letter to the government, calling for immediate publication of the strategy to help support the industry.

Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates and one of the signatories, said: “In the past, the prime minister has pledged to make Britain a technology superpower – now, the tech industry needs him to act decisively on one of the greatest threats to the sector’s growth and outline the future of the UK’s semiconductor industry.

 “The failure of the UK to reach its potential in this field to date has been brought sharply into focus by the progress of others – from the construction of major semiconductor production plants in India to the passing of the Chips Act in both the EU and US. Britain’s status as a leading tech ecosystem is at stake.”

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