London Tech Week: Badenoch heralds $1trn tech industry as Starmer and Sunak battle over AI

Wed 14 Jun 2023
Posted by: Phillip Adnett & William Barns-Graham
Trade News

AI

It’s London Tech Week this week and senior politicians from both major political parties have been setting out how they would support the sector.

The IOE&IT Daily Update here looks at the key developments from the event, including new funding from Asia Pacific, debates over AI and issues around diversity in tech.

Badenoch praises sector

Business and trade secretary Kemi Badenoch yesterday addressed delegates, tech firms and investors at Banqueting House as part of the summit and heralded what she described as a “thriving $1trn UK tech sector”.

Badenoch said the UK is “open for business”, noting the recent launch of a new Smarter Regulation Framework that “commits to regulating only as a last resort, and where industry standards and free markets have failed”.

She added that the UK’s accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) “promises huge potential for the UK economy” and noted the announcement that the Asia Pacific Digital Trade Network is expanding its coverage to two new markets – Vietnam and Taiwan. The network supports the expansion of UK technology in Asia.

APAC pitch

The biggest APAC delegation to ever visit the event has been offering investment opportunities to innovative UK projects in areas such as fintech, clean tech, life sciences and AI.

British tech firms have had the chance to pitch for multi-million-pound deals with Asia Pacific (APAC) investors representing funds of over £100bn.

Business deals have already been secured, the government has announced, including a strategic partnership between leading Malaysian conglomerate Sunway Group and Cambridge-based venture capitalist firm Deeptech Labs, enabling it to accelerate the growth of net zero technologies.

City AM reports that Britain is keen to boost ties with Asia after a sharp drop off in trade following Brexit. The Department for Business and Trade said a host of firms would announce they are swapping their headquarters for London this week, including Japanese startups Datagusto and Qufooit, as well as Kiwi booking platform Enrolmy.

Home of AI

Speaking on the opening day London Tech Week, prime minister Rishi Sunak touted the UK as the intellectual and the geographical home of AI regulation, reports the Evening Standard.

Sunak said that the possibility of AI advances must be carried out safely as he positioned Britain as a potential home of a global regulator.

He told the conference: “We must act – and act quickly – if we want not only to retain our position as one of the world’s tech capitals but to go even further and make this the best country in the world to start, grow, and invest in tech businesses.”

Sky News reports that the PM said AI could bring huge benefits to the education and health sectors, and would be useful across the economy, with “every job essentially having AI as the co-pilot”.

Alternative plan

Labour leader Keir Starmer also addressed the conference the day after Sunak and offered a different approach to that taken by the government.

He said there was “huge potential and incredible opportunities” in AI but warned on the risks that the emerging technology would bring.

“We are nowhere near where we need to be on the question of regulation,” he said, adding that there was piecemeal action in certain sectors but no overall strategy.

He promised a Labour government would partner with business to develop a “clear long-term strategy” to harness the benefits of AI.

Lacking in diversity

City AM noted that, despite previous commitments, diversity remained an issue for the tech industry.

A Diversity in Tech report from Tech Talent Charter found only 28% of the country’s tech workers are gender minorities. Additionally, only 35% of the industry comes from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Meanwhile, just 27% of UK equity deals went to startups with at least one female founder in 2022.

Solar powered

The Guardian reports that a pair of UK universities were awarded government funding for “space-based solar power".

Cambridge University and Queen Mary University of London both received backing for two research projects into the feasibility of the technology, with energy minister Grant Shapps saying this was part of a “giant leap” that could put the UK at the “forefront of this rapidly emerging industry.”

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has claimed this new type of energy could create a new multibillion-pound industry and support up to 143,000 jobs across the UK.