Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has reiterated his vision of making the UK the “next Silicon Valley”, this time to an audience of tech representatives from the likes of Meta, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, and Google.
In a speech given today in London, the chancellor set out a plan to boost the UK economy ahead of his Spring Statement speech in March. He identified digital technology, green industries and life sciences as key growth sectors.
Hunt told the Silicon Valley representatives that they are “vital to Britain’s economic future; but Britain is vital for your future too”.
He added: “We must never forget the ingenuity and optimism that is our hallmark… being a technology entrepreneur changed my life. Being a technology superpower can change our country’s destiny.”
Hunt laid out a vision to make the UK Europe’s largest economy through a system he described as the “four Es”.
“They are enterprise, education, employment and everywhere. The four Es of economic growth,” Hunt said.
Describing the “enterprise” section of his plan, Hunt encouraged lower taxes as a way to encourage investors to put money into Britain. The chancellor said the country should create “the most competitive tax regime of any major country”.
Hunt also stressed the importance of levelling up the country beyond London and the South East, which makes up the “everywhere” pillar.
“As the chancellor said, education is also vital,” said Chris Ford, head of government Affairs EMEA at blockchain company R3. “We need the next generation of engineers, developers and architects to continue driving innovation which will help set the UK apart amidst competition from Europe and elsewhere.”
Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates told UKTN that the desire from Hunt was “laudable”, and that he believes the government does have some understanding of the British tech industry.
Despite this, he said “the UK does not need to mirror itself on Silicon Valley. Mr Hunt was right to spotlight the brilliance of the London-Oxford-Cambridge triangle – the home of the 3rd largest tech hub behind New York and San Francisco – as evidence of the sector’s ability to punch well above its weight, time and again”.
He added: “Rhetoric must translate into tangible action and policy. This week, Tech London Advocates, Global Tech Advocates and industry leaders asked the government to produce the long-awaited semiconductor strategy. It’s simply not good enough that – two years down the line – we are still waiting for a strategy that will provide essential direction to an industry at the heart of Britain’s manufacturing and technological future.”
Silicon Valley slogan?
While the speech laid out broad ambition, it remained light on policy. Andrew Megson, CEO of My Pension Expert, said that Hunt “outlined some sound logic” in the early parts of his speech but “sadly 30 minutes of fluff followed”.
Megson added: “The chancellor gave us a lecture, not a plan, saying we must wait for Spring Budgets and Autumn Statements for policies, spending commitments or detailed strategies.”
Hunt, along with other Conservative politicians, has often used Silicon Valley as a benchmark and – to some – an empty slogan.
Hunt previously said he wants to “turn Britain into the world’s next Silicon Valley” in November 2022 while delivering the Autumn Statement.
In 2019, while running for the Conservative Party leadership, Hunt said “I will fire up our country to be the world’s next Silicon Valley”.
In 2010, then-Prime Minister David Cameron said he hoped East London would challenge Silicon Valley as a global technology hub.
Current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who previously lived and worked in California, has made frequent references to Silicon Valley, mentioning the region three times in ten minutes during a leadership debate.
More recently, Business Secretary Grant Shapps told an audience in Davos, Switzerland, that he wants to “inspire ‘scale-up Britain’” and that the country’s tech ecosystem could become similar to Silicon Valley while learning “from the mistakes it has made”.
Image credit: Simon Walker / No 10 Downing Street
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