Rishi Sunak has been a vocal supporter of the UK tech sector – will this continue as he takes the top job at Downing Street?
With the appointment of Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister yesterday, Britain welcomed its second leader in a matter of weeks.
Taking the helm amidst a deeply troubling period, the new PM has already warned of “difficult decisions to come” as he seeks to fix the economic stramash created by his predecessor, Liz Truss.
Indeed, during his first speech, Sunak revealed his continued support for the Conservatives’ national ‘levelling up’ agenda and pledged to support businesses through tough conditions.
Many Conservatives view Sunak’s appointment as a welcome step in the right direction. As former chancellor of the exchequer, there is a common belief that his credentials and fiscal experience will prove vital in resolving Britain’s ongoing economic difficulties.
Rishi Sunak support for UK tech
Sunak’s appointment appears to have sparked optimism across the tech sector, which stirred in recent weeks as the economy tanked and markets descended into chaos.
And that optimism is justified. Sunak was a vocal champion for the British technology sector during his time as chancellor, repeatedly highlighting its economic potential and launching a raft of initiatives to transform the sector into a global powerhouse.
Notably, the former chancellor played a leading role in the establishment of a Digital Skills Council, aimed at narrowing the country’s concerning digital skills gap.
Similarly, Sunak unveiled the Digital Strategy earlier this year. Outlining the government’s vision for the future of the sector, the strategy aimed to create thousands of jobs, attract international talent and further develop digital infrastructure across the country.
At the time, the strategy was hailed as a positive sign of the government’s belief in the UK tech sector and its ability to compete with global counterparts in China and the United States.
So what does the UK tech sector think of the Rishi Sunak appointment?
Creating a science and technology “superpower”
Tech Nation Chair Stephen Kelly said he is hopeful that Rishi Sunak will continue supporting the UK tech sector, which is currently enjoying a “golden age”.
More than five million people now work across the industry, he noted, and startups and scaleups are cumulatively valued at over $1 trillion – a growth rate six times faster than the rest of the UK economy.
Kelly said: “As we welcome Rishi Sunak’s arrival to number 10, we look forward to the continuation of his pledge to make the UK a science and technology “superpower” and to ensure a strong pipeline of government backing is available to the most exciting and fastest growing scale-up businesses.”
techUK CEO Julian David echoed Kelly’s comments, adding that he believes Sunak understands the unique challenges faced by the UK tech sector.
He commented: “During his time as chancellor, Mr Sunak had a strong understanding and belief in the role of the UK tech sector as a driver for economic growth.
“To get the UK back on track to deliver long-term economic growth, Mr Sunak’s government will need to deliver on the digital infrastructure, digital skills, and regulatory certainty that businesses need to invest and innovate for the long-term benefit of the UK.”
ScotlandIS CEO Karen Meechan welcomed the appointment but warned that the UK tech sector will face challenges ahead.
She said: “We welcome Rishi Sunak’s appointment as Prime Minister. Digital technology will have a vital role to play in creating economic growth but it will need more than just a digital policy and warm words to deliver this.
“The UK needs to be an attractive place for digital investment and talent but other challenges exist, such as inclusion and ensuring people have the digital skills they need for both life and a flourishing career in the sector.
“We look forward to working with the UK Government to ensure that the Scottish digital technology sector can continue its high growth in the years to come and attract and retain much-needed talent.”
Roy Shelton, CEO of the Connectus Group, added: “The appointment of Rishi Sunak is likely to be welcomed by the tech sector. Rishi has a track record in being able to navigate the country through difficult times which makes him the perfect person to be at the wheel as we approach future challenges.”
“Music to many fintechs’ ears”
David Brown, CEO of fintech social enterprise Hi told DIGIT he believes Sunak’s appointment is promising for the fintech industry.
Brown said: “Sunak’s continued support will be important to the fintech industry which has gone through some difficult months in recent times.
“One of his major contributions was commissioning the Kalifa Review to help ensure that the UK remains at the global cutting edge of technology and innovation in financial services.
“During fintech week last year, he talked about boosting growing fintechs, pushing the boundaries of digital finance and making financial markets more efficient – music to many fintechs’ ears.”
AI on the Agenda
Professor Adrian Hilton, Director of the Surrey Institute for People-Centred AI at the University of Surrey said the recent appointment also bodes well for the future of artificial intelligence in Britain.
Earlier this year, Sunak launched the Future of Compute Review to examine the potential of emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
Prof Hilton said: “His past support for the significant role artificial intelligence can play in boosting the future UK economy offers positive signs.
“In his 2021 party conference speech, he noted how AI could contribute billions of pounds to UK plc. The tech sector will be hoping to see AI placed at the heart of the economic recovery agenda.”