Tech Nation Tour Cambridge: Exchequer Secretary’s speech

“A confident Cambridge is leading the way, and inspiring the UK’s extraordinary tech story”, says Robert Jenrick MP.

Speech given yesterday by Robert Jenrick MP:

Thank you for inviting me here to speak today.

When I arrived in Cambridge as a fresh faced undergraduate – I know I don’t look much older now – I had just bought my first mobile phone and upon arrival was given my first email address by the university – although I couldn’t use it to email home as my parents didn’t have one. We used the old ‘in’/’out’ markers by out names at the bottom of the staircase so you wouldn’t need to climb up several flights of stairs to discovers someone was out – it didn’t occur to us to text and there was no whatsapp.

There was little discernible technology on my course – a list of lectures was printed in a giant white book like a telephone directory and we all carried pocket diaries to remind ourselves of our timetable. There was an appalling legacy IT system in the library which I hope has now been consigned to history! We wrote our essays by hand, usually after midnight in an essay crisis, followed by an early morning walk across town to put them in the supervisor’s pigeon hole. I saw a lot of beautiful sunrises in Cambridge.

This is all making me sound very old. However, I only arrived here in the year 2000 and today I am the youngest member of the government.

The truth is that the technological changes over the past 15 years have been breath-taking. The pace of technological changes has never been faster and yet they will never be so slow again. It will keep accelerating.

By the time I came to Cambridge, the university science park was already 30 years old. Unusually for a British university, Cambridge was already building deep connections between science and commerce with its wider community and with entrepreneurs.

The university had appreciated that academia must be connected to society. That science is only given true application if connected to industry and that being an intellectual, is in its true sense, means engaging in critical thought on society and its challenges, not as an end in itself, but to propose solutions for society.

Cambridge is home to some of the UK’s fastest growing tech companies, employing 15,500 people, and with a turnover of £2.4 billion. The city has produced Acorn Computers in 1978, and Arm Holdings in 1990, who design the chips in more than 95% of the world’s smartphones. More recently, Cambridge has given birth to Raspberry Pi in 2012, and in 2013 Darktrace, the cyber security firm that became a “unicorn” last month after being valued at $1.25 million.

With the city bursting with ideas and potential, it’s no surprise that the biggest names in tech want to be part of this. In 2017, Amazon began using Cambridge as a testing ground for their drone delivery service, while Apple opened an AI lab over on Hills Road after acquiring a university spin out called Vocal IQ.

We are investing in Cambridge. We see the city as a powerful star in a new emerging galaxy, that require connecting with other stars in the region. This will happen literally with a new highway and railway linking Oxford and Cambridge, together with Milton Keynes and Bedford. This will bring together an economic and research and development powerhouse, with new business parks, the housings residents urgently need and inward investment.

A confident Cambridge is leading the way, and inspiring the UK’s extraordinary tech story. Across the country, we now have over 1.5 million people working in the digital sector. And investors have picked up the scent. Investment into the UK’s digital tech sector exploded last year, to £4.5 billion, with standout deals for Transferwise and Monzo.

In fact, some estimate that the UK’s tech sector received 4x as much venture capital investment than Germany, and more than France, Ireland, and Sweden combined. We are leading Europe. Since the EU referendum, nearly 1,500 UK tech companies have won external investment from domestic and international sources. But in this most competitive of sectors, there is no room for complacency.

The UK’s success is built around the 350 incubators & accelerators that give funding, mentoring & training support to new companies across an extraordinary spectrum from AI to life sciences, and agri-tech to quantum technologies. These places are the crucibles of creation, melting pots where new ideas mingle and mould before marching into the world.

Tech City in London is at the heart of it all – In the last three years, it has worked with over 350 companies who have between them raised $5.16 billion. After the success of Tech City, we announced last November that the government was committing £21 million over four years to help roll out similar programmes across the UK, creating ‘Tech Nation’. As well as boosting and connecting burgeoning new tech firms, this will bring jobs and spread skills around the country, from Belfast to Bristol.

But we don’t just want to see companies with bright ideas get off the ground. We have to create the environment for companies with ambition to reach for the stars, and I was pleased to see the six recommendations that were made in the recently published Tech Nation report because we are focused on addressing each of them.

To help companies attract the talent they need, we are doubling number of visas for ‘Exceptional Talent’ to 2,000 per year. Alongside this, we are tripling the number of fully-qualified computer science teachers in our schools, to ensure a strong pipeline of digitally skilled workers. We want this country to be an open, welcoming place for the brightest and the best from around the world – especially for entrepreneurs with an idea and the determination to realise it.

To help companies connect with the country, we are investing over £1 billion to stimulate the market to deliver next generation mobile and broadband in the UK. Yesterday the Chancellor announced a new, bold project to roll-out full fibre broadband to every premise in the UK within 15 years, and a majority by 2025. This will ensure we have the digital infrastructure we need to thrive.

To help companies get hold of the finance they need to grow, we are doubling annual investment limits in EIS and VCTs for knowledge-intensive companies, and their investors and keeping business taxes low so that enterprise always has its reward. However, there is more to be done here to build finance for start-ups and scale-ups and to further develop the venture capital sector.

The UK is the digital capital of Europe, rivalled only by New York and Silicon Valley across the world. We see the Valley as our true competition and we will strain every sinew to make the UK the most attractive place on earth to start and grow a business.

And we believe that is possible. And the reasons are clear.

Our language and laws present no barriers. Our great universities produce great ideas. And our vibrant culture stimulates minds and celebrates success.

As the Tech Nation tour rolls around the country, spreading the good word, our confidence will only grow. And this island – home of the television, the telephone and the world wide web – will continue to lead the world.

Thank you.

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