The publicly funded Tech City UK organisation was established under David Cameron’s Tory-led coalition government in 2011 in a bid to grow and support the UK technology sector.
The quango has had a bit of a bumpy ride after several of the fast-growing tech firms it set out to support, such as Huddle and OneFineStay, claimed the agency was of little to no use. It also came under fire last month when I discovered that it was failing to capitalise on its newly granted visa endorsement powers.
However, given Tech City UK’s limited budget of around £2 million a year (dwarfed by Innovate UK’s budget of over £500 million), and its relatively small team, I believe it’s now doing a commendable job of shining the spotlight on the UK tech sector.
Through its marketing and promotional activities, people in Silicon Valley have actually heard of Tech City and US investors are increasingly backing UK companies (particularly in London) with their billion dollar funds. It also appears to be doing a decent job of equipping UK citizens with the skills required to run a digital business – albeit with the help of several UK universities.
But today I'm concerned for its future. As the UK public goes to the polls, myself and a number of Techworld sources are slightly worried about what happens next for Tech City UK, particularly if the Tory party doesn't come out on top.
Since its inception, Tech City UK has had a close relationship with the pro-business Tory party. You could maybe argue that it’s not surprising given the organisation was created under the Tory-led coalition government and that it hasn’t had the chance to work with Labour, who are neck and neck with the Tories according to a number of polls.
But the relationship between the two has gone from strength-to-strength, to the extent where one has to question whether Labour would continue to fund the quango if it were elected into power.
Tech City UK's chair, Baroness Joanna Shields, is a Tory peer and David Cameron’s digital advisor. Last week the former Facebook and Google executive contributed her name (alongside Tech City UK’s) to an open letter in The Guardian, which stated it would be bad for jobs, growth and innovation if the UK was to “change course” (i.e vote Labour into power).
Further, the activities of Tech City UK aren’t as closely aligned to Labour’s main policy areas, which include creating homes and securing public services, to name but a few.
I asked Tech City UK if it was willing to answer a few questions around the matter, to which it responded saying it was "bound under purdah".
However, two hours later, I received an email from a Tech City UK spokesperson saying the organisation had changed its mind and that it wanted to comment.
It reads: “Regardless of the political outcome of the election, our mission remains unchanged. Our aim is to create the optimum conditions for UK digital businesses to grow and succeed.
“Tech City UK is politically agnostic and engages influencers from across the political spectrum. As soon as we know who will be holding the keys to No 10, the team will steam ahead with targeted engagement to ensure the needs and wants of the digital business community are at the forefront of newly elected minds.”
If Labour does emerge with the keys to No 10 then it's possible that Tech City UK will have to turn to its friends in the private sector for future funding.
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