UK 'must invest more' in post-covid tech

The upcoming Spending Review by the UK government must offer more support to businesses embracing digital technologies, according to a submission to ministers on Monday by the lobby group techUK.

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The organisation says that Covid-19 has produced a "socially-distanced economy" with business models and consumer trends that will persist long after the pandemic has passed.With the government due to announce a truncated Spending Review - covering just the coming 12 months, rather than the next five years - at the end of November, techUK says there is much to be gained from supporting investment in new technology.The group cites research by Cisco showing that most digitally-able firms have been more resilient during the pandemic and that by improving SME digital capabilities, £155 billion could be added to the nation's UK GDP.This presents an opportunity, says techUK, not just to protect livelihoods in the near term, but to lay the groundwork for new job growth underpinned by increased technology use.Neil Ross, policy manager at techUK, commented: "While the Spending Review has been cut to one year, we cannot miss this opportunity to help business and the wider economy move from mitigation, to adaption...to transformation."As well as supporting SMEs to adopt new technologies, the Spending Review should also begin laying the bedrock for the wider economic recovery by taking action to put the UK on course to become a science and innovation superpower, develop the skills needed for the jobs of the future and build the smarter state."This will help prepare the ground for growth that can then be accelerated in next year’s Budget and a future Comprehensive Spending Review."TechUK points to polling by Sage that found that continuing cash constraints had resulted in 50 per cent of SMEs saying they did not have the funds to invest in tech, despite the fact 71 per cent of the firms reporting that such investments would boost profitability and create more jobs."Throughout the pandemic, the government has taken swift and welcome action to support businesses facing hardship. However, we must now also look to business and economic transformation to be ready for what comes next," said Mr Ross."In our submission to the spending review, techUK has called on the government to seize this moment to enable businesses to drive forward the UK's digital transformation by taking action to reduce barriers to digital adoption through the expansion of the financial support available for SMEs to adopt the technologies they themselves believe are vital."Among the techUK demands are:
  • a guarantee of funding for the planned Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation and an expansion of the R&D tax credit to cover investments in data.
  • the establishment of an international centre for AI and climate change at the COP26 conference in Glasgow next year.
  • building a digital skills platform to support people train for new digital jobs.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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