Queen’s Speech: the tech takeaways
All eyes were on the Palace of Westminster as the Queen – in her 64th speech – announced the legislative intentions of David Cameron’s new government. It’s a chance for the first all-Conservative government for almost two decades to set out its stall for the next five years.
Having shed a coalition partner and with the other major parties in post-election paralysis, the speech with twenty one bills, was packed to the political brim. So how well have the Conservatives done in positioning themselves as the party of business and what does this mean for UK tech?
- This will be the main vehicle for a roll-back of company regulation to ‘make Britain the best place in Europe to start a business’. Government believes that the measures will free small businesses from unnecessary costs and help to create an additional 2 million jobs.
- Details include a target to cut red tape by at least £10bn (extended for the first time to Regulators as well as Whitehall) and the creation of a new Small Business Conciliation Service to help settle payment disputes.
- The Bill has been well received by business and forms a key element in the Government’s attempt to support the continued ‘rise of the startups’ and make Britain the ‘technology centre of Europe’. Measures to block any rise in income tax, VAT or national insurance will also help enterprise and the economy.
- Although a bonfire of red tape didn’t fully materialise in the last Parliament, the Conservatives are hoping they can do better this time around. The pledge coincides with similar commitments from the European Commission, including proposals for lighter regimes for small businesses in new EU legislation and greater independence for the Commission’s Regulatory Scrutiny Board.
Investigatory Powers Bill
- The announcement to ‘modernise communications data’ alludes to the revival of the Communications and Data Bill (now named the
- Investigatory Powers Bill). The Lib Dems blocked the previous Bill during the last Parliament, but it looks like it’s making a return.
- It will contain provisions to extend the range of data communications which companies must store and make available to Government and the security services.
- The Bill presents a significant operational burden for all companies but particularly tech companies, given that data is core to the very anatomy of their business. The UK Internet body, ISPA, has already responded to the proposed laws on data retention, emphasising the ‘need to properly balance security and privacy’ and a strong desire for an ‘open and comprehensive debate’.
- The Bill will necessitate the alteration of technical structures and the creation of new systems to collect, standardise and store significant amounts of data; which will inevitably come at the cost of innovation and competitive advantage.
EU Referendum Bill
- The speech included the promise to renegotiate Britain’s terms of membership of the European Union and put it to a public vote by the end 2017.
- The Bill could receive its second reading as soon as early June and will set out the question to be used, asking voters if Britain should “remain” a member of the EU as advised by the Independent Electoral Commission.
- Any renegotiation and subsequent referendum brings huge constitutional change, which is always unsettling for investors. UK business could experience a period of protracted operational and regulatory uncertainty; which could hit smaller, fledgling UK tech firms disportionately.
- It may also limit the UK’s bargaining power around current and future EU rules and regulations. Crucially, it could also mean that the UK misses out on shaping and reaping the benefits of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market Strategy which aims to harmonise the EU online digital marketplace.
Notable items omitted from the speech include London Mayor Boris Johnson’s plan to cap number of London minicabs which was interpreted by many as a move to limit Uber’s success in the capital. Concluding her speech, the Queen said that “other measures will be laid before you”. As always, not everything the government intends to do is included in the Queen’s speech; there will be more to come.
It’s comforting, however, that the yesterday’s Speech points towards a government which intends to ‘back the technology revolution’ and support start-ups. But the path for tech business will not be straightforward. The revival of the Communications Data Bill and EU Referendum Bill are just two early examples of the potential of government policy to unintentionally squeeze business growth. With challenges, come opportunities to engage: civil servants and politicians will need to maintain a close dialogue with industry on the needs of a nascent tech world. And no challenge is greater than the European Question – an issue which could affect the UK’s standing as the digital leader of Europe. The battle to save our place in the European Union (however imperfect it may be) will be long and exhausting – and UK tech must be ready to take up the challenge.
Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Getty Images