Extra 1,000 tech visas and £20m govtech fund among PM’s measures to boost UK digital sector

Government details a range of programmes designed to promote the UK technology sector

Prime minister Theresa May said that the UK technology space makes ‘an immense contribution to our economic life and to our society’  Credit: PA

The prime minister has announced a range of measures designed to boost the technology industry, including an extra 1,000 visas for talented digital professionals and a £20m fund to help private-sector companies create products to solve public-sector challenges.

Plans have also been unveiled to expand the Tech City development around Old Street in east London into a network of technology start-ups across the UK, dubbed Tech Nation. Some £21m of government money will be invested in the project, which hopes to help create about 4,000 new companies across sites in cities including Cardiff, Birmingham, Edinburgh, and Belfast.

Another £20m is to be spent on launching a cybersecurity training programme for 14 to 18 year olds. The programme will give young people the chance to test themselves against simulated cyberthreats.

The extra visas will see the number of documents available doubled to a total of 2,000. 

Antony Walker, deputy chief executive of industry body techUK, welcomed the move, but cautioned that much more needs to be done before Brexit “to clarify the rights of EU citizens that already work in the sector and to build a fit-for-purpose immigration system”.

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“Doubling the number of tech visas is a welcome and practical step towards supporting the UK’s fastest-growing sector,” he said. “As our economy continues to digitise, more and more businesses depend upon tech talent to support their growth. This isn’t just a London phenomenon. There is going to be huge demand for tech skills in businesses right across the country. 

Walker added: “For the announcement to be truly valuable, however, the government must couple it with further flexibility on Tier 2 high-skilled talent. It must also address concerns about the speed and costs associated with Tier 1 and 2 visas to ensure they can be used by companies large and small.”

A newly established GovTech Catalyst team in Whitehall will dedicate itself to helping public sector bodies “identify challenges they face that could be solved by new digital technologies”. 

Technology companies that believe they could help overcome such challenges will be able to apply for a chunk of a £20m funding pot. The money will be doled out over three years between 2018/19 and 2020/21. 

GovTech will connect the companies with local authorities, NHS bodies, and other public-sector entities, who can choose, if they wish, to buy the company in question’s technology.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said: “Britain is a world leader in digital innovation with some of the brightest and best tech-firms operating in this country. Working with us, they can provide technological fixes to public sector problems, boost productivity, and get the nation working smarter as we create an economy fit for the future.”

Prime minister Theresa May said: “Our digital tech sector is one of the UK’s fastest-growing industries, and is supporting talent, boosting productivity, and creating hundreds of thousands of good, high-skilled jobs up and down the country. It is absolutely right that this dynamic sector, which makes such an immense contribution to our economic life and to our society, has the full backing of government.”

She added: “Technology is at the heart of our modern Industrial Strategy, and we will continue to invest in the best new innovations and ideas, in the brightest and best talent, and in revolutionary digital infrastructure. And as we prepare to leave the European Union, I am clear that Britain will remain open for business. That means government doing all it can to secure a strong future for our thriving tech sector and ensure people in all corners of our nation share in the benefits of its success.”


Sam Trendall

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