With the Prime Minister and Chancellor hosting a reception at Downing Street tonight in honour of the UK’s tech sector it is little surprise that a flurry of announcements were made this morning “reaffirming government commitment to innovation”.
Along with a £21m expansion of the Tech City programme into a nationwide network, dubbed Tech Nation, and a £20m fund to “help public services take advantage of innovative technologies like AI” there is also a commitment to doubling the number of tier 1 exceptional talent visas.
This is a welcome move from the government and proves that they are listening to the concerns of the tech sector and making it easier to continue to access the right talent from around the world. In our recent response to the Migration Advisory Committee’s call for evidence we made the case that the success of the UK’s games industry has significantly relied on global talent, and in order to remain competitive on a global stage the Government must ensure the UK remains open to top international talent.
The fast-growing and highly productive UK games industry employs a significant proportion of non-UK staff, and our sector’s relevance to UK plc will only grow owing to the industry’s marrying of technical and creative innovation that can be applied elsewhere in the economy, from advances in artificial intelligence to virtual and augmented reality.
But skills challenge is far greater than can be filled through the exceptional talent route. In our recent State of Play report we highlighted the extent of this issue with 87% of respondent games businesses stating that they hire international talent as UK candidates do not have the right skills, leading to EU nationals predominantly being relied upon to fill mid-tier technical roles in the UK games industry.
The Government also announced a £20m training programme to challenge young people to test their skills against simulated online cyber threats. This investment in the next generation workforce is vital but as the Royal Society’s report “After the reboot” highlighted only last week, there are still a number of urgent challenges in need of addressing to safeguard our future in the digital world. The long-standing and well documented shortages in domestic digital skills means we will continue to struggle to fill the increasing demand for these kinds of roles and as we compete against other sectors and the current situation is only likely only to get worse.
The expansion to tier 1 visas is therefore a welcome boost to the sector and we look forward to working with government to ensure the games sector can fully benefit. However, our departure from the EU provides the opportunity to reform and future-proof our whole immigration system. We have consistently argued for reforms that should aim to deliver a robust, data-driven and agile immigration system that keeps pace with high-value areas where the UK is lacking skills.
For UK games and technology businesses to secure work which would otherwise be invested elsewhere, our future immigration system must not restrict access to the talent businesses need to grow.