Gary Turner is UK MD at software firm Xero. In this article, he argues that the Brexit debate is currently missing one key question: What do we need to do to transform the UK’s tech scene so it can compete anywhere?
The potential business advantages and disadvantages of leaving the EU are complex and multifaceted. So far, more than a third of FTSE 100 companies and 200 small business owners have written open letters stating their opinions. Some cite harmed growth opportunities, increased cost and complexity of trade as reasons to stay, while others cite increased flexibility and adaptability as reasons to leave.
While leaving the EU will of course have an impact on the UK as we know it, rather than making predictions we should be thinking more laterally about the future of small UK businesses. What we should really be asking is what we need to do to transform the UK’s ability to compete anywhere – in Europe and globally – in the next forty years, future proofing the country and its businesses.
The key to economic growth
Tech developments mean the cost of starting a business has never been lower. Despite this, though, productivity rates aren’t climbing. As SMBs account for over 99% of all companies in the UK, they are key to unlocking economic growth – and economic security is one of the biggest arguments behind the Brexit debate.
The technology boom is shaking up entire industries, flipping the way we work on its head by streamlining and automating tasks. The internet is making it possible for small businesses to operate in international markets: Google is close to being able to translate the entire internet, as its translation app now covers more than 103 languages or 99% of the total online population, with 13 new languages soon to be added.
Technology is connecting businesses with completely new customer bases and closing the gap between big and small. By giving small businesses access to the sophisticated technology once only available at enterprise level, the little guys are starting to compete with the big boys with the advantage of being agile and adaptable – ultimately strengthening the UK’s economy. But to keep up with this tech and data explosion, we need to invest in its future.
Technology, innovation and education
Starting with an investment in better digital literacy in schools to create more technology engineers and tertiary education that produces a generation of digital marketers rather than classical marketers, we can prepare ourselves to be ahead of the game with the continued explosion of global innovation that is driving so much change in the sector.
Just like every community needed a library 100 years ago, every community now needs a tech cluster. Tech clusters should be the business centres of tomorrow, not just an oasis of technology in an otherwise mundane business environment.
Cementing London as the tech centre of Europe and fixing support in communities across the UK will have a hugely positive impact on small businesses.
Silicon Roundabout in East London heralds a golden era of innovation in the city and makes it one of the best places in the world for tech entrepreneurs to launch their businesses. And it’s not just London that is home to start-up enthusiasm and innovation – engineering-design focused North-East England was the fastest-growing region for technology businesses behind London last year.
By investing in education for future generations and giving businesses the tools and employees they need to drive innovation rather than keep up with it, we can prepare the UK’s business sector for the next forty years – regardless of whether we will be in Europe or not.