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Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer’s New Year Speeches, what do they mean for UK tech?

The Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition have set out their plans for the year ahead, but what does this tell us about how the Government and Opposition might approach the tech sector? 

With the next General election expected in 2024 this year will see the two main UK political parties solidify their key messages to the electorate ahead of campaigning beginning next year.

With both speeches set in the heart of East London’s tech scene at Plexal and Here East these New Year addresses provide some clues about the two leaders priorities and where tech policy might feature among them.

Below we provide our overview of the two speeches and set out what we think this might mean for techUK members.

The Prime Minister’s New Year address: 

In his new year address the Prime Minister aimed to tackle a narrative of decline around his Government.

Against a backdrop of industrial action and concerns over the state of the economy Rishi Sunak made the case for the public to regain confidence in his administration by recognizing the challenges the UK faces in the year ahead, setting out a five-point plan that he wants to be judged by (halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing national debt, cutting NHS waiting times and tackling illegal immigration via small boats in the English Channel), and sketching out his longer-term vision of a more dynamic and innovative British economy and society.

Most interesting for techUK members was the Prime Minister’s focus on innovation, saying the most effective way for the UK to tackle some of its major challenges around the health service, jobs and wages, meeting net zero and growing the economy was to make the UK ‘the most innovative economy in the world.’

techUK members will agree with this objective, especially as the Prime Minister’s comments focused on general innovation across the economy, the kind that is often driven by digitization and the widespread diffusion and adoption of productivity and creativity boosting technologies.

Getting there will be a major challenge. The Government ended 2022 having taken a step backward on digital adoption by closing the Help to Grow: Digital Scheme, further delaying the roll out of Making Tax Digital and cutting R&D incentives for the most innovative British firms.

Instead of cutting back, making the UK the most innovative country in the world means driving forward these kinds of projects to get small businesses to digitise, support our most innovative and R&D intensive firms as well as ensuring the right frameworks are in place to ensure the UK has the right digital skills, regulatory framework and key infrastructure such as gigabit capable broadband, 5G and computing power.

However, the speech did not provide significant new detail on how the Government plans to achieve this and while we expect a number of announcements for UK tech ahead of the March 15 Budget, the Prime Minister and his Government will need to move quickly in 2023 to live up to his ambitions.


The Leader of the Opposition’s New Year address: 

While the Prime Minister’s address set out specific metrics by which to judge his Government Keir Starmers New Year’s address aimed to continue to build on the narrative being put forward by the Labour leader that the Labour Party is ready for Government with a well thought out vision for the UK.

In his speech the Leader of the Opposition specifically mentioned his aim for a 10-year project focused on national renewal with a long term and mission led approach to Government. This would see a smarter, more data driven central government and public sector work in partnership with the private sector to deliver results.

This mission and results orientated approach saw the Labour leader take on what would have been ideological sticking points under his predecessor. With Keir Starmer saying Labour is comfortable with spending restraint and more private sector involvement in public services if this was the best route to deliver for the British people.

The bulk of the speech largely took aim at where Labour sees the Conservative Party as having failed in Government over the last 13 years and pledging to shake up politics and policy making if the party was to win the next General Election.

This included the mission led approach which Labour will consult on over the coming months as they begin writing their manifesto. Plans to devolve power away from Westminster through a new ‘Take Back Control Bill’ that would see local governments given more power over skills, employment support, transport, energy, housing, culture and childcare were also announced. 

While the speech was light on detail the message was clear about Keir Starmer's intentions. Those being that Labour would work more closely with the business community, including the tech sector as Labour builds out its plan for Government.

However, pledging to work in partnership with businesses will set expectations of meaningful engagement and if Labour doesn’t deliver on those through close consultation and setting out pro-business policies in its manifesto then many businesses could view Keir Starmer as not living up to his promises.

For regular updates on how the changes in UK politics might affect the tech sector, sign up here to techUK's weekly Policy Pulse Newsletter

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