Investment in the Internet of Things (IoT), IT skills, start-ups and tax breaks are just some of the things that the tech industry hopes that chancellor George Osborne will announce in his Autumn Statement to the House of Commons today.
The statement acts as a sort of ‘mini-Budget’ before next March and will provide an update on the government’s economic plans.
Plans unveiled in this year’s budget included a new big data institute, support for commercialisation of next generation ‘wonder’ material graphene and 100,000 new apprenticeships.
However many in the IT and technology sector felt the announcement lacked detail and had neglected important issues.
We asked what they would like to see on the chancellor’s agenda today.
Internet of Things funding
Head of policy Charlotte Holloway said: “Other countries are investing in this. For example India has said it wants to create an IoT industry worth $15 billion by 2020.
“So we’re looking to the chancellor to make an investment in IoT in the UK to help make us a global leader. We’ve got all the ingredients in place but we need more from the government, for example backing major research projects.”
techUK added the government should establish 10-year budget cycles “to create a long-term funding base for science and innovation growth”.
Work to address the tech skills gap, a common bugbear of IT firms, is on the wish list for many companies today.
Michael Whitfield, CEO of software company Thomsons Online Benefits, said the shortage of tech skills in the UK is one of the firm’s biggest challenges and he’d like to see action from Osborne.
He suggested tax breaks could be offered to employers that sponsor IT students through university, or get apprentices and talented school leavers into the workplace.
Whitfield warned failure to ensure the UK has the necessary tech talent will “leave companies like Thomsons looking abroad for employees, and failing to make their maximum contribution to the British economy”.
Holloway also highlighted the importance of skills. She said: “We’re looking for action on STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] skills. We think the chancellor could do more. We want him to incentivise domestic talent in the UK, especially at Masters level.”
Support for start-ups
Simon Hill, CEO of ideas management software firm Wazoku, would like to see more support for start-ups around cash flow.
He said: “Raising capital and ongoing cash flow remain the biggest issues for most start-ups, so an expansion of the Enterprise Investment Scheme and Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme to facilitate investments more readily via trusts and pensions, would be a real help to early stage businesses.”
Financial services giant KPMG said small businesses were being put off seeking funding by a fragmented and difficult-to-navigate marketplace.
Iain Moffatt, head of KPMG Enterprise, said: “Greater clarity around or a simplification of the myriad of schemes and incentives available would be incredibly welcome.”
Holloway agrees that help for SMEs is in order. She suggested boosting the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI). The SBRI is a government scheme worth £200 million to public sector challenges with innovative ideas from SMEs.
Holloway said: “We called for its funding to be doubled in our manifesto. It represents a real opportunity to focus on high-growth companies, start-ups and firms doing very innovative things with the public sector.”
Cut business rates
Telecoms repair company Comtek and cloud accounting technology firm Xero suggested tax relief could be one route to help tech firms.
Xero said it wants the current business rate relief (for businesses with a rateable value of below £18,000 a year) to be doubled beyond March 2015.
Comtek went even further, calling for the government to “overhaul the entire process” of business rates rather than just provide relief for certain organisations.
TechUK added that it backed the CBI’s call for the government to ‘supercharge’ research and development tax credits.