It’s safe to say that Rishi Sunak promises to be one of the last British Prime Ministers to become more “tech-friendly”. He takes the reins at a time of unprecedented turbulence, when immediate domestic priorities require urgent attention.
However, Sunak should not back down on the commitments he made to the nation during this summer’s Conservative leadership contest. The scope of his priorities may have narrowed since then, but the tech industry will be watching closely to see if he can deliver on his promise to transform the UK into a “technology and science superpower”.
There are several examples from his time as chancellor that show Sunak is someone who understands and really promotes British technology. In September 2021, he convened a conference at Plexal, based at the Here East Innovation Campus in East London, bringing together a diverse group of tech leaders, investors, CEOs and experts.
While there, he heard about the challenges and issues facing tech startups and large-scale companies after launching Future Fund in 2020 and Future Fund Breakthrough in 2021, two funds he founded to support startups affected by the pandemic. He has organized this session with technology leaders to ensure he understands how he can continue to support UK technology as a world-leading technology ecosystem.
Elsewhere, the fintech sector has been a shining example of a UK tech success story, and Sunak has played an important role in its development. It has started to implement some of the recommendations of the Khalifa and Lord Hill reviews to boost the fintech sector and make UK public markets more competitive accordingly – especially for tech and fintech unicorns.
The most significant is this: Sunak has regained some semblance of calm – at least for now. Technology is a notoriously resilient industry, but after a chaotic few weeks of economic and political turbulence, stability should become more than just a mantra, but rather a pillar of his purpose. Tech investors welcome this and will look for further positive signals in the autumn statement.
It’s not just about what he promised in the tangible, measurable aspects of his manifesto – the credibility of the Square Mile really extends to the tech ecosystem. Sentiment, which can be just a window of stability, is very important. Markets breathed a sigh of relief to welcome a former investment banker to the country’s top job, the pound rose slightly from historic lows and fiscal indicators point to a sense of confidence that arguably disappeared under Sunak’s predecessor.
Despite the infamous awkward moment with a contactless bank card, Sunak stands for the payments of the future. He set up a digital currency task force and outlined a plan at the Innovate Finance global summit earlier this year to see the UK become the world’s leading hub for digital currencies and cryptocurrencies.
A self-confessed “tech geek”, a quality he openly acknowledged at the opening of this year’s London Tech Week, Sunak has both personal and professional connections to the global industry. His wife is an heiress to the NYSE-listed global consulting and IT company Infosys and is an angel investor. His formative years were spent in Silicon Valley – known for creating an infectious atmosphere for innovation and entrepreneurship.
While there is initial reason to be relieved about his appointment, important questions remain. For example, how will Sunak handle the impatience surrounding the long-awaited Internet safety bill? Will he want to reduce the power of the big tech companies, or at least get more tax revenue from their profits? This is becoming a challenge not just for the tech industry, but for the wider electorate as well, and Sunak must find the bandwidth to prioritize them.
If the UK is to continue to stay close to global technology superpowers the US, China and India, then the digital sector must play a vital role in driving the country towards economic growth. The macroeconomic environment is having a negative impact on many tech hubs, so there is still a lot to play for in terms of UK tech leadership.
If Sunak succeeds in stopping the gates of Downing Street and stays the course, the tech industry will hold him accountable for delivering on his promises to turn Britain into a tech superpower. It is hoped that the Prime Minister’s previous track record and rhetoric will be put into action to increase the growth and dynamism of British technology.
Russia Shaw CBE is the founder Tech London solicitors & Global fans of technologyand regular columnist of UKTN.