On Thursday 13th July, we brought 12 companies from the Future Fifty network to Number 10 Downing Street for the latest in our series of roundtables, where members can share their challenges, concerns and suggestions with government. As with our previous events run at the famous address, a senior adviser played host, with responsibility this time handed to Jimmy McLoughlin, Business Adviser to the Prime Minister.
41% of the Future Fifty companies there on the day are based outside of London, and cover a range of different sizes, from 18 to 600 employees. Together they shared their thoughts across a range of subjects, the key take aways from each are summarised below.
Access to capital
Incentive schemes, in their many guises, have clearly been front of mind for the attending founders. Familiar concerns around the size of capital available in the UK – particularly in comparison to the US – were raised, principally in relation to later stage funding rounds of series C, D, E, and beyond. Increasing the EIS schemes’ annual limitation of £5m was suggested as an initial measure, with the establishment of a Government Growth Fund to match any equity investment into a tech business between £5m and £25m as a longer term goal.
Additionally, the role of the British Business Bank was highlighted, with calls for an expansion of its capabilities, primarily to aid the provision of capital to small businesses in the absence of EIB membership.
Regulation and legislation
With the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) set to come into force from the end of May 2018, British companies have found themselves left wondering about the UK’s legislative response. GDPR will fundamentally shape the business strategy of any company wishing to do business on the continent, and the founders present at the roundtable sought assurances that data protection laws would be robust enough to ease the worries of their existing European clients.
These concerns sat within a broader theme of the day of keeping UK law in as close accordance with EU’s as possible; which notably included thoughts around the Customs Union, VAT reporting, and VAT payments.
Talent and upskilling the UK workforce
The ending of freedom of movement for EU nationals was high on the agenda for the attending companies, both in terms of attracting new talent and settling the nerves of their existing EU staff. In the now likely advent that the scheme is shuttered with Britain’s exit from the European Union, suggestions for replacements were put forward, including a close facsimile of the US H-1B programme, which enables employer-specific visas for overseas citizens in specialised occupations.
Away from Brexit, there were calls for a more ‘joined up’ tech learning policy, linking schools, Universities/colleges, and tech companies themselves to help address the apparent skills shortage in particular fields, such as developers and data analysts.
Maintaining free and easy access to data formed a central theme for the panel, with warnings raised regarding the potential emergence of a handful of monopolies with exclusive access to data. As well as further reinforcing their dominant position, concerns were raised around potentially fewer opportunities for early and mid stage startups due to lack of access to data.
One solution proposed to counter this scenario was to launch the Open Bank API Framework, which would ensure the availability of, and access to, at least 50% of public non-sensitive data via open APIs.