Britain must find its tech champions or be left behind

Linda J. Dodson

Consider the fact that Europe’s most valuable listed tech company is SAP, a German software giant, which at €167bn, or $198bn, is worth less than one tenth of Apple’s valuation.

Next largest is Dutch chipmaker ASML, at €158bn (£142bn), while a cursory glance down the list makes clear an obvious fact: Europe’s next biggest tech players are a puny bunch compared to Silicon Valley’s muscle men.

London’s top tech offerings are even more feeble with Sage, an £8bn accounting software provider, representing Britain’s largest listed technology company.

But what is to blame for this situation? Is it a more conservative business culture? A failure to effectively commercialise academic research? Or the dead hand of European regulation that stifles the kind of red-blooded capitalist endeavour on which Silicon Valley was built? Or perhaps a mixture of all of these factors and more.

Either way, as Britain looks ahead to Brexit, an opportunity exists to differentiate itself by becoming a better place for technology companies to invest and grow.

That must mean a more competitive tax regime and the rollback of regulations that have held it back in the past to boost innovation.

The comparison between US and European public markets is not entirely fair of course.

Some of the top technology companies in the UK, Germany and Scandinavia remain in private ownership, while US investors have always had a better understanding of the tech industry and markets there are more liquid.

That means many European technology companies end up shifting to the US or listing their shares there. For example, Spotify – the Swedish music streaming company – is worth $49bn but decided to list its shares on the NYSE.

That trend, however, is part of the problem.

Either way, as the global economy becomes ever more centred on technology, Europeans continue to buy their phones from US and Korean companies, use US and Chinese social networks and shop online via Amazon.

In the long run that could ultimately mean they find it tougher to generate jobs and tax revenue to fund government services.

Britain needs to find a solution to the problem.

Much to learn on the use of AI

The fiasco over exam marking this month has caused anguish for millions of pupils and exposed the big social risks of relying too heavily on algorithmic decision-making.

A hasty U-turn by ministers might have helped rescue Gavin Williamson’s career – for now at least. But the implications don’t end there.

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