From the top · 7 December 2016

Britain’s tech leaders call on Theresa May to guarantee a future for startups

Tech leaders
Signatories of the letter included angel investor Dale Murray and Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom

In an open letter to prime minister Theresa May, nine of the UK’s leading tech figures have outlined the safeguards required to protect the country’s technology sector in post-Brexit Britain.

The letter, released on 5 December, set out nine recommendations to government that, it stated, must be met in order to retain the UK’s “world-class status” as a leader in technology and innovation.

Signatories of the letter include Dale Murray and Sherry Coutu, two of our 30 Small Business Decision Makers for 2017, as well as Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom.

Measures put forward by tech leaders in the letter include placing digital skills at the heart of the education system, commitment to European single market access and tax breaks for startups to ensure incentives for entrepreneurship.

However, the “number one concern for entrepreneurs post-Brexit”, the letter read, was access to technical talent from other European countries.

To this end, the tech leaders demanded the preservation of working visas for all existing European employees, and pushed the prime minister to implement a “STEM passport” – giving graduates from leading universities automatic citizenship to support Britain’s technology industries.

This issue is of importance to many industries in Britain, as the residence rights of existing employees, as well as the opportunities to hire skilled migrant workers in future, have had no guarantees from government as it attempts to work out its Brexit strategy.

In a recent Business Advice interview, Romilly Dennys, executive director of Coadec, the organisation that lobbies policy makers on behalf of tech startups, said that government needed to ensure that Britain showed it is “open to skills and talent”.

“Government must realise that the economy can be global and local at the same time. To remain competitive, we need to keep our workforce open,” she said.

Speaking to Business Advice in June, Ed Vaizy, previously the digital economy minister, stated that “frictionless” movement of labour between EU member states was a driving factor in Britain becoming the primary destination for European tech talent.

In the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum result in June, Lastminute.com founder Martha Lane Fox led a collection of 58 tech leaders to write an open letter to the Evening Standard, articulating the fears of the “shell-shocked” tech community of Britain outside of the EU.

The letter urged tech leaders to “lean in” – respond positively to the Brexit by focusing on the opportunities presented and keep the UK a “competitive, entrepreneurial and dynamic place to innovate and create jobs”.

Brexit has put a chill on startup recruitment –here’s how to get around it

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is a reporter for Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and previously worked as a content editor in the ecommerce industry.

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