Cicero look ahead: London Tech Week

By Arabella Hamilton, Account Executive

As the great and the good of the tech world descend on London for Tech Week (10-14 June), it seems appropriate that we should take a moment to reflect on some of the current issues for the sector as well as consider what is to come.

The tech sector is worth nearly £184bn in the UK economy and rising, according to the 2018 Tech Nation Report, expanding 2.6 times faster than the rest of the UK economy. As a result, the word ‘tech’ is often on the tip of the tongue of a number of the Conservative leadership hopefuls, none more so than Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who hosted the launch of London Tech week on Wednesday. Establishing himself as the tech candidate, he told the room that in order to move the country forward, the UK would have to consolidate a “people-centred approach” to drive the future of digital innovation.

London is already the second most attractive place behind Silicon Valley to launch a tech business. And so, Mr Hancock is right when he says there is a huge opportunity for the UK to continue to solidify its place as a hub of tech innovation in the future. However, in order to do this, there are a number of big issues the tech sector will have to grapple with:

Is Antitrust coming to the UK?

Lawmakers in the US are currently engaged in a tech antitrust investigation, led by the Democrats in the House Judiciary Committee. Last month, the Committee launched the inquiry into suspected “anti-competitive conduct” of big tech companies such as Google and Facebook. The calls from House Democrats for greater transparency for tech giants will not be unfamiliar with those in Westminster, and we should expect a wide-ranging discussion of the potential impact on the UK. In fact, Shadow Digital Minister, Tom Watson, indicated in a speech earlier this year that a future Labour government, would introduce a number of radical policies to address this current “imbalance of power” within the tech sector.

Digital competition

A second American export likely to play a central role at Tech Week is the Furman Review, penned by former chief economic advisor to Barack Obama, Jason Furman. Stronger competition laws, user data controls and new regulators were among the key recommendations of the Review to tackle the perceived lack of competition in the tech sector. HM Treasury has already thrown its support behind this review, so it’s likely that we will see more of Furman’s recommendations slowly integrated into the government policy.

Regulation of social media

Instead of waiting for the OECD to conclude its review of regulation for social media, the UK Government instead launched a consultation to explore the impact social media platforms are having on the mental health of its users.  The Online Harms White Paper, which includes proposals to measure the transparency and integrity of online content, is due to conclude at the beginning of July. While many tech firms are reported to welcome the increased regulation of their sector, their preference is for a global approach with common rules across jurisdictions. For some, the UK’s national led approach may therefore be a cause for concern.

…and Huawei  

Huawei’s involvement in delivering the UK’s 5G network has been a key feature of the ongoing leadership contest, as well as President Trump’s UK State visit this week. Outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May resisted attempts to place an outright ban on Huawei’s operations in the UK, though the approach of the next Conservative leader is less certain. However, what we do know for sure is that issues surrounding cyber security and the integrity of tech firms will not go away. So, for whoever sits in No.10 later this year, this issue is likely to remain at the top of the agenda. 

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Arabella Hamilton

Account Executive

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