The UK Is Facing a Science and Tech Exodus
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The following article is an opinion piece written by Liz Sparrow. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Technology Networks.
Science and tech businesses are facing a difficult outlook in the UK. A mix of national and local issues are inhibiting them. These can only be resolved if there’s real collaboration between public and private sectors, between government departments, cities and regions, and the businesses themselves.
This need for more joined-up thinking emerged from the conversations we had with over 100 decision-makers from the UK’s most ambitious and fast-growing science and tech businesses. The full findings can be found in our Building a Future for Science and Technology Report.
The main takeaway from the report is that the UK risks a mass exodus of its science and tech businesses, with almost one in six having firm plans to move overseas. A further 88% have considered it. This is despite the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, recently stating he wants to turn the UK into the next Silicone Valley during the Autumn Statement.
A key driver of the real-time disconnect is the government’s lack of understanding of the sectors’ needs. A primary part of this is the limits set on employing overseas talent, with the government’s current policies affecting almost 30% of the companies we spoke to. Despite Jeremy Hunt’s claims of fostering a new science and tech hub in the UK, the many months that a science minister was missing from cabinet demonstrates a genuine lack of commitment to the sector.
But there are also problems at a local level. The science and tech companies we interviewed all cited problems amongst local authorities, city planners and science parks. Public transport is essential to create thriving communities, yet a fifth say their current premises aren’t accessible by local bus or train routes at all, and a further 16% report that wider transport links aren’t good enough either. Further to this, a lack of affordable housing is a problem for more than a fifth.
Coupled with this are issues with premises, with almost half of the companies we spoke to unsure that their current bases will meet their future needs. This is in part due to decision-makers feeling their premises are not attractive or environmentally sustainable enough, something which is becoming an increasingly high priority as they struggle to meet the eco demands of potential and current employees.
These issues are culminating in a significant impact on recruitment and ultimately, growth. A third of science and tech companies say they are finding it difficult to fill crucial support roles such as lab technicians, office and admin staff – a section of the workforce that particularly relies on good transport links and affordable homes. Meanwhile, half are also struggling to fill senior roles. These problems are being exasperated by a general lack of talent, with a third saying they need to be closer to a larger pool of talent – which for some means moving overseas. Every company which does leave like this, or fails to thrive, has a major knock-on effect on the rest. That’s because science and tech companies operate in ecosystems; they need to be near other successful players in their sector, commercial partners, suppliers and academia.
All of these interdependent threads lead back to the headline finding the importance of joined-up thinking. Whilst the government may have ambitions to create the next Silicone Valley, it won’t do so without a change in approach. We need masterplans for our cities, regions, and the country as a whole and collaboration between all parties – if the UK is to keep hold of its science and technology companies, from the start-ups to the powerhouses.
The Building a Future for Science and Technology Report by Ridge and Partners is free to download at www.ridge.co.uk/insights.
About the author:
Liz Sparrow is a Partner at Ridge, leading the science and technology sector.