I believe that the UK doesn’t shout as loudly as it should about its technology business success stories for two main reasons – our inherent British reservedness and a lack of clarity in terms of whose job it is to promote the good news stories.
Government departments do promote UK success stories. However, I believe that other counties do it better – and it’s hugely important to ensure that the world’s tech businesses which are considering overseas expansion, as well as the UK’s tech businesses which we want to keep in this country, are aware of our successes.
For example, I see the Netherlands having a greater impact than the UK internationally – it seems better able to communicate its success stories. Similarly, Ireland demonstrates the value of having a single public body responsible for promoting its investment success stories.
Ireland’s network of international office which are tasked with leading promotional efforts and offering a ‘hand holding’ service to help businesses set up in Ireland is a model which I see working very well. The UK undoubtedly has similar resources, but these appear to be offered in such a fragmented way as to have less clarity of purpose – and are less straight forward for potential investors to access. My view is that a single UK body with a focused remit would potentially serve our interests better.
I believe that we have plenty of fantastic success stories, we just need to tell them - look at business parks like Thames Valley Business Park in Reading where Microsoft and Oracle have chosen to locate European Headquarters, or Stockley Park near Heathrow where Canon, Sharp and Toshiba have key European bases.
While these private sector organisations also have a role to play in telling their story, a central organisation is best placed to nudge such efforts in the right direction.
I also feel strongly that we need to grapple with the issue of work permits and visas – this is potentially a significant obstacle for foreign tech companies wanting to set up in the UK. Again, we can learn from the Dutch who roll out the ‘orange carpet’, with special fast track visas and work permits used to attract those that they want.
The issue is not that visas for executives wanting to work in the UK are routinely declined. The process is simply too painful. I see first-hand the time and effort required to enable the highly skilled individuals that the UK wants to attract, to move and work here - including embassy interviews and queuing at the UK Border Agency’s Croydon office. This has the potential to damage our competitiveness.
Ultimately I believe that we should, contrary to our internationally renowned reservedness, help those businesses and their executives who have chosen to invest in the UK to tell their stories. The fact that so many tech groups have successfully located here is the most powerful form of endorsement – and is an important ‘softer’ complementary message to be combined with issues such as taxation and legislative policies.
Gerry O'Brien is International Corporate Tax Partner at KPMG in the UK