From the top · 17 June 2016

Ed Vaizey exclusive: “Being part of Europe’s single market allows our tech startups to thrive” 

Ed Vaizey has previously served as shadow minister for culture
Ed Vaizey has previously served as shadow minister for culture

Since assuming office as minister of state for culture, communications and creative industries in 2010, Ed Vaizey has become an increasingly influential figure in government, shaping small business policy.

His responsibilities span the Departments for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) and Culture, Media and Sport, and he has made it his job to shape and direct digital economic policy – working to cement Britain’s status as a global leader in the digital industries.

As such, Business Advice included Vaizey in its inaugural list of the country’s 30 key Small Business Decision Makers in 2016. We chewed the fat with Vaizey at Runway East – one of the UK’s most revered shared working spaces for young and innovative tech startups – in central London’s Tech City.

In an exclusive interview, Vaizey emphasised to Business Advice the importance of tackling cyber security for Britain’s small business owners, pointing to his ongoing Cyber Essentials initiative as evidence that the government has made considerable steps in tackling the issue.

He stressed, however, that his current focus was on ensuring tech companies received all the information needed to achieve the best outcome when Britain goes to the polls to vote in the EU referendum on 23 June.

“From a small business perspective, the Leave campaign talks a lot about the burdensome regulation the EU creates, but to think that if we leave the EU we’ll be a regulation-free country is farcical.

“We have one of the least regulated labour markets of any developed nation. Only the Netherlands has a similar model – a fellow EU member. It’s one of the reasons our economy does so well.”

Vaizey warned that tech companies could be among the first to disregard the UK if it decides to leave the EU, emphasising that the “frictionless” freedom of movement across European borders was one of the principle reasons why Britain, and London in particular, has become such an attractive tech hub.

“At the moment London is the default European city young tech companies want to come to, especially from the US. But I know how keen countries like France and Germany are to attract inward investment. A couple of years after a Brexit vote, and these tech firms might be looking towards Berlin or Paris instead,” Vaizey went on to say.

As a firm believer in the value of the European single market, having access to the tech talent among Europe’s 500m citizens is not something Vaizey would like the country to give up. He staunchly believes the EU adds value on top of the decisions made in Westminster, and that Britain is far better off having a seat at the table.

He added: “I’ve always been a bit of a Eurosceptic, and don’t like over-regulation, especially in the digital industries, but as the EU campaign has gone on I’ve become more and more convinced Brexit would be a disaster for the country.

“I’ve worked together with ministers in Europe on some key digital initiatives, and we’re considered a leader in the single market for digital. We’ve been able to shape regulation to make it easier for tech startups to thrive. We achieved the lowering of data roaming charges, against the wishes of some members, for example.

“We pool our sovereignty in a good way to create opportunities for consumers and businesses.”

Looking to the future, Vaizey would like to see Britain’s digital industries integrate more with the wider economy, and aims to encourage the government to establish a ministry for the digital sector. He admitted that more work was needed to tackle cyber security, particularly for small firms that are most at risk from fraud and email phishing scams.

In 2015, his Security Breaches Survey revealed that software attacks were costing small firms as much as £310,800 a year – up from £115,000 in 2014. Greater government support in the form of digital-grants and funds for small business owners is something that Vaizey will continue to push for. However, for the Conservative politician, remaining in the EU will be the biggest draw for digitally-oriented startups seeking growth.

By encouraging an overlapping approach to Westminster politics, and with his cross-departmental responsibilities, Vaizey will continue to fight for the interests of some of Britain’s most innovative and forward-thinking small businesses.

If you’d like to know more about the referendum debate following our interview with Ed Vaizey, read our Anna Soubry exclusive – when she declared Brexit would be disastrous for Britain’s “vulnerable” small firms.

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Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.

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