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Tech Leaders Urge UK Government to Prioritize AI Skills and Innovation amid Calls for Stability

UK tech leaders urge next government to prioritize AI skills and growth ahead of July 4 election.

By Athena Xu

6/11, 01:37 EDT
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Key Takeaway

  • UK tech leaders urge the next government to prioritize AI skills and innovation, emphasizing the need for a regulatory environment conducive to technology growth.
  • Business executives, including Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales, criticize economic stagnation and express support for Labour, seeking political stability and consistent economic strategy.
  • Calls for policy stability in immigration, tax, and business growth are crucial as UK faces economic instability from Covid-19 impacts and geopolitical tensions.

Focus on AI Skills

British technology executives and entrepreneurs are urging the next government to prioritize the development and use of artificial intelligence (AI) skills. As the U.K. heads to the polls on July 4, the business community is calling for economic growth, a regulatory environment conducive to technology innovation, and a long-term vision to solidify the U.K.'s global standing. Zahra Bahrololoumi, CEO of Salesforce U.K. and Ireland, emphasized the need for AI-centric skills across multiple generations. "Innovation is heading very quickly towards autonomous AI. We need to have the skills in this country ... to be able to adopt and use it in a responsible way, with the right controls and protocols," Bahrololoumi stated at Salesforce’s World Tour London.

Matthew Houlihan, senior director of government and corporate affairs for U.K. and Europe at Cisco, echoed this sentiment, advocating for the U.K. to become a leader in innovation and emerging technologies like AI and quantum computing. He highlighted the importance of digital skills, tech adoption support, and security approaches to ensure the benefits of digital technologies are widely felt. The push for AI skills is seen as crucial for the U.K. to keep pace with rapid technological advancements and maintain a competitive edge.

Political Leanings

While many tech executives remain non-committal about their preferred candidate in the upcoming election, a growing number are publicly supporting Labour. An open letter signed by dozens of business executives, including Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Atom Bank CEO Mark Mullen, expressed a desire for change. The letter criticized the U.K. economy's stagnation over the past decade, citing a lack of political stability and consistent economic strategy.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak acknowledged that it will "take time" for the general population to "really feel" economic improvement. Data from earlier this year showed a 0.6% rise in U.K. gross domestic product between January and March, following a shallow recession in the latter half of 2023. The business community is looking for stability and certainty from the next government, regardless of the party in power.

Calls for Stability

The past four years have been marked by economic instability in the U.K., driven by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ukraine conflict, and rising living costs. The "mini budget" in September 2022 under former Prime Minister Liz Truss further exacerbated the situation. Rishi Khosla, CEO of British digital bank OakNorth, stressed the need for stability and consistency in policies related to immigration, tax, and business growth. "The strong desire is for whichever party that comes into power to stay the course on that, to make sure that they stay the course on the narrative but also on what they do," Khosla said.

Tech leaders are frustrated by the lack of specific policies from both major political parties. British Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt has proposed new tax breaks and investments to establish the U.K. as a leader in high-growth industries but has refrained from offering detailed plans. Labour has committed to capping the corporation tax rate at 25% and maintaining certain tax reliefs, promising to publish a roadmap for business taxation if elected.

Street Views

  • Zahra Bahrololoumi, Salesforce (Cautiously Optimistic on AI skills development in the UK):

    "Innovation is heading very quickly towards autonomous AI. We need to have the skills in this country ... to be able to adopt and use it in a responsible way, with the right controls and protocols."

  • Matthew Houlihan, Cisco (Cautiously Optimistic on UK's tech leadership):

    "It should also be an excellent time to review approaches to essential aspects of the U.K.’s digitising economy such as digital skills, tech adoption support and approaches to security to ensure that the benefits of digital technologies can be felt by as many people across the country as possible."

  • Rishi Khosla, OakNorth (Neutral on political stability for business growth):

    "The strong desire is for whichever party that comes into power to stay the course on that, to make sure that they stay the course on the narrative but also on what they do, whether it’s immigration, whether it’s tax, and they don’t create environments that go against that for populist measures."