There was relatively little in the way of announcements for startups this week at Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.
But the Tories showed the tech community a lot of love, albeit with a tax sting in the tail for some larger tech companies.
A message of support
In contrast to Labour conference, where tech and entrepreneurship were hardly mentioned on the main stage, praise for the sector came from all directions – George Osborne, Boris Johnson, BIS minister Matthew Hancock and of course Digital Industries minister Ed Vaizey.
And behind the scenes digital advisers and ministers were just as keen to highlight the government’s support.
Osborne talked about how we’re going through “an economic upheaval as big as the Industrial Revolution” as “new technologies, and new companies, and new economies are fundamentally shaking up the established way of doing things”.
And Johnson praised the tech sector “in which London is now dominant in Europe, much to the irritation of Angela Merkel”.
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Meanwhile, Ed Vaizey spoke wamly about TechUK’s manifesto, joking that his favourite recommendation was the one for cabinet-level leadership on digital. He also spoke at Coadec’s fringe on our Startup Manifesto, welcoming ideas from the sector.
The juiciest new announcement for startups at Conference, and the first of Coadec’s Startup Manifesto recommendations to be adopted by the government, is a new independent review into the sharing economy.
Announced by Matthew Hancock with the aim of making the UK a ‘global centre’ for the sharing economy, Debbie Wosskow, founder of Love Home Swap, will lead the review.
It’s going to look at property sharing, time and skill sharing, transport sharing, as well as the sharing of personal items. You can share your views by filling in their online survey here before the 28th of October. It’s pretty likely that some of the ideas from the review will be included in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in December.
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Hancock said new technology is “breaking boundaries, empowering more people to start a business. We support these challengers and we’re going to make Britain their natural home.”
Perhaps the biggest demonstration of commitment to digital entrepreneurs was bringing Pitch10 to Birmingham. This showcased 10 digital successes from the West Midlands to an audience of VCs and corporates.
We saw a wide range of startups take part including hardware startup 5litres (making next generation showerheads), payment startup Droplet (whose product I use in the cafe at Campus), games studio SoshiGames, and social media back-up service SocialSafe.
Following the event, the founders who took part then went with the Prime Minister to watch George Osborne’s speech – resulting in some selfie opportunities.
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George Osborne singled out tech companies for tax avoidance, noting that “Some technology companies go to extraordinary lengths to pay little or no tax here” and promising to put a stop to it.
This was quickly dubbed (at the urging of the Chancellor’s aides, I’m told) the ‘Google tax’ and aims to tackle so-called ‘double Irish’ arrangements.
While I’d rather have seen this framed as a problem of multinationals across the board, rather than specifically a tech problem, this seems like a good move.
Still ahead of Labour
In my view the Conservatives are still safely ahead of Labour on startup and tech issues (although as I’ve written before, Labour are catching up).
The sheer number of times that ministers and advisers talked about entrepreneurship and digital innovation, and the number of fringes that Ed Vaizey, Joanna Shields, Daniel Korski et al attended, are all testament to their commitment to the sector.
It’s clear the Tories are determined to be seen as the party that gets tech, in the run-up to the general election – a move that broadly speaking worked for them in 2010.
While new policy was thin on the ground, the tone of the conference couldn’t have been better for startups. It’s safe to say that another Conservative-led government would continue to listen to and try to support digital entrepreneurs.