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Business Management

UK IT pros have their say on the prospect of a 'Brexit'

With the prospect of a referendum on the UK’s continued membership within the European Union at stake, Prime Minister David Cameron is pushing ahead for reform. But what does the UK’s technology industry feel about the prospect of leaving the EU?

According to a study by The Entrepreneurs Network, much of the ruling Conservative Party would be in favour of a ‘Brexit’, while studies from IP Expo Europe and TechUK suggest that the UK’s IT industry would much rather remain a member of the Union.

We asked a variety of IT professionals in the UK whether they think the UK should stay or go. And eight out of nine wanted to stay.

Askar Sheibani, CEO of Comtek:

Britain should remain a member of the EU. It has created a huge market, with a population of around half a billion and no cross border barriers for trade. British entrepreneurs, such as myself, find this vast market an exciting opportunity for growth. UK tech startups, innovative companies and their partner universities are able to access the many types of support, including financial, that the EU is providing. This not only accelerates the growth of the UK tech industry, but it facilitates the growth and success of UK tech companies at a global level, while protecting them against any undesirable, anti-competitive practices of some international giants. Britain’s departure from the EU will be devastating for the UK tech industry.

Dr Peter Chadha, IT Consultant:

In order for most IT businesses to have sustained economic growth, there has to be a need to access skills more easily from outside of the EU. Due to pressure from uncontrolled migration from the EU the government is making it very tough to get individuals from other parts of the world. This stifles the IT sector as the EU prevents the hiring of programmers from India - which is one of the few world markets able to provide the right kind of cost-effective resource.

It was recently highlighted that over the next few years India will have 5.5 million software programmers - even more than the US Software and IT services firms. The UK's IT sector needs to be able to tap into this valuable resource, and if we vote to leave the EU, we will be able to do this.

Husayn Kassai, CEO of Onfido:

One of the reasons behind the success of the UK tech scene is that startups are able to attract the very best talent from all over the world. At Onfido, our number one priority is building a first-class team and we search far and wide to find the very best candidates. Now 70-strong with 45 nationalities represented - and a large number from Europe - this would have been significantly delayed if not impossible were the UK not in the EU.

Another impact would be increased regulation and red tape. Tech startups in particular would also be excluded from initiatives such as the Digital Single Market which aims to remove regulatory barriers to create a single market for the digital space. This could contribute €415 billion per year to our economy and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

Ian Parslow, senior VP at MTI:

Simply put, a ‘Brexit’ has the potential to hinder the tech sector’s ability to grow, and with the sector being a key driver of growth post-recession, this could also have a negative impact on the UK economy as a whole.

There is an existing talent gap in the UK for essential tech skills such as coding, software development and architecture. Even with the current access to the EU talent pool, the UK tech sector is still experiencing a shortfall in skills. The inevitable talent shortage post-‘Brexit’ could very well slow the growth of many companies, and might be detrimental to those smaller businesses that rely on European talent to run their business.

An exit would make it harder to attract talent from mainland Europe, and those individuals who still want to work in the UK would presumably be subject to new work and visa conditions that could make the entire process difficult for all parties involved.

John Newton, CTO of Alfresco:

The UK can’t rely on home-grown talent alone. To stay productive and compete with businesses on a global scale, UK businesses need to be allowed to recruit the best staff from throughout Europe. Any withdrawal from the EU structure would impact negatively on the current flexible labour laws and our ability to trade freely across national borders.

I am firmly behind the UK staying a full member of the EU. The only way companies can improve efficiency is by enhancing working practices either through the adoption of new technologies, or by hiring the most skilful, adept staff – or both. With a static national birth rate, we have to look beyond the UK’s borders to achieve optimal business practices.

Martin Campbell, MD, Ormsby Street:

I’m deeply concerned that the commitments that the government made during the election campaign - to try and appear tough on Europe - are getting in the way of sensible policymaking and misrepresent the role that Britain’s membership of the EU has in contributing to the success of tech businesses in the UK.  

Talk of ‘putting the brakes’ on Britain’s support for immigrants might sound tough enough to try and attract UKIP voters, but it will raise questions with tech businesses who rely on the availability of a workforce with diverse skills from across the EU area in order to grow their businesses successfully in the UK. Ormsby Street now employs 12 people, three of whom are from other EU countries.  Our ability to bring to the UK the skills and capacity in our workforce that we need to grow and innovate is key to ensuring the success of the British economy.

To an extent I understand why David Cameron needs to talk tough - and to influence the EU from the inside in a direction that supports British interests - we must remember that fear-politics aside, Britain’s membership of the EU is important and should not be jeopardised. In the last six months we’ve already launched in two other EU countries, and I’d hate for anything to threaten any further expansion. Europe is a natural market for many UK tech businesses, as well as a source of talent.

Ed Molyneux, CEO of FreeAgent:

I’m in favour of the European Union. Closing the drawbridge and isolating the UK from Europe through a ‘Brexit’ strategy is likely to be extremely unhelpful to any UK business that has aspirations to grow outside of the UK’s borders.

Being a partner nation in the EU is hugely beneficial in terms of trade - especially as many web-based small businesses are increasingly selling products and services worldwide rather than just domestically. EU membership is also beneficial for hiring too. For tech companies, in particular, it opens up the opportunity to hire world-class developers from Europe who can work alongside the best talent from the UK to create more sophisticated technology, develop better products and services and to help build bigger businesses.

Christoph Pleitgen, Senior VP at Wochit:

It is, of course, very difficult to predict the consequences of a ‘Brexit’, which would very much depend on the kind of framework that would replace Britain’s membership in the EU. Nevertheless, for tech companies, any obstacle to having access to a very large market or any potential increase in the price of goods or services, could potentially be very serious. Maybe most importantly, one of greatest assets of the UK tech industry is how effortlessly international the local scene is. The consequences of local tech startups finding it more difficult to attract top international talent would be very dire indeed.

Erki Kert, CEO of Big Data Scoring:

For tech companies in our space [big data], a stronger and more unified EU is better. Especially when it comes to unified regulations in the digital world, where the same rules would be applied across all EU countries. We need to have the same rules for data privacy, data usage, intellectual property regulations, etc. US tech companies have a huge market in their home territory with very similar regulations, resulting in easier scalability. EU companies at the same time are struggling to scale up due to differences in country legislations. So for the UK tech sector, a more unified, especially when it comes to the regulatory side of things, EU would be better off expansion and scalability-wise.

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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