Talent crunch tops tech Brexit fears  

As tech professionals from across the world gathered in London last week for the launch of Global Tech Advocates, talent continues to top the list of post-Brexit business fears – despite immigration minister Brandon Lewis offering reassurances on visas and the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.

global tech advocates here eastAnxiety continues to grow on Brexit among UK tech businesses, despite government assurances on EU citizens living in the UK and the doubling of the exceptional talent visa announced by government last week.

In a new survey released ahead of the launch of the new Global Tech Advocates network, a third of London’s tech entrepreneurs report that they have seen new hires falling through since the EU referendum in June 2016.

The survey of network members in London puts the impact of Brexit on access to talent as the number one threat to tech business. The survey suggests that six in 10 of the capital’s tech entrepreneurs believe Brexit has damaged the international reputation of London as a tech hub.

At last week’s Global Tech Advocates launch at London’s Here East, immigration minister Brandon Lewis repeated government promises for continued residency for all EU citizens now here, alongside a doubling of tier 1 exceptional talent visas to 2,000. “Every EU citizen currently living legally in the UK will be able to stay post-separation,” he said.

Tier 1 visas are open to “individuals who show promise in technology, science, art and creative industries”, so will address more talent gaps than just technology. This means the extra 1,000 visas will be spread across industries.

Global Tech Advocates has emerged from Tech London Advocates, as the UK-based network set up four years ago extends its reach with new hubs across the world.

Its survey also showed that 60% of British tech entrepreneurs believe London is still the best place in Europe to start and scale a tech company. GTA founder Russ Shaw said the sentiment across London’s tech sector was “increasingly one of determination, conviction and ambition”.

global tech advocatesScot Gardner, UK chief executive of Cisco, said Brexit offered “an opportunity to drive skills in the UK. We talk a lot about skills coming in and the need to have global skills access. That’s hugely important, but we also need to remember that there is a massive divide within our communities and we have to develop the skills right from the ground up.”

He added: “Tech is the number one lever to fix some of the productivity challenges that the economy has. Focussing on that productivity agenda through skills is an opportunity for us.”

Theo Blackwell, London’s new chief digital officer, said: Brexit had “made the tech community feel very angry”, with insecurity over talent, data and access to markets. But he said the presence of an elected mayor meant the views of the tech community could be reflected “at the highest level”.

Lord Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra Beer, predicted that Brexit would end up being abandoned once people and business realised the effect it would have on the UK economy.

TLA was established in 2013 as a voice and network for London’s tech sector. Following a series of major events, and the establishment of numerous specialist working groups, TLA now has 5,400 members from across technology, investment, policy and more.

New advocate hubs have been established in the past 18 months in the Nordics, San Francisco, Belfast, Singapore, Spain and Shanghai, as well as in Belfast and the north of England, creating a global network of 7,000 members. Tech Bogotá Advocates, the latest addition, launches in March.

In last week’s marathon on-stage ‘world tour’, 800 advocates heard perspectives from panels on China, India, the US, Africa and Latin America, as well as continental Europe.