Why foreigners are good for the UK tech industry

An open-door policy benefits UK, experts say...
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

An open-door policy benefits UK, experts say...

Far from damaging British interests, foreign IT companies and workers actually benefit the UK economy and jobs market, a technology conference heard today.

The Intellect Annual Regent Conference heard how protectionist attitudes like 'Buying British' or 'British jobs for British people' could harm the UK technology industry.

Speaking at the conference, Mike Lynch, CEO of UK software giant Autonomy, said opening the doors to highly skilled foreign workers will help create IT jobs in the UK.

"One of the things we do in the UK is that we get caught up in the whole immigration debate," he said.

"The first thing you ought to do to generate more entry-level jobs in the UK is to put out a sign saying, 'If you are skilled in IT we will welcome you here'. We should have the idea of the ultra-skilled worker."

Lynch gave an example of the benefits, saying that once in the UK these ultra-skilled workers will "need to employ 15 programmers [to support them] and those are the entry-level jobs".

He acknowledged that the government's recent cap on skilled foreign workers coming to the UK would limit these knock-on employment benefits for UK workers.

In a separate address, Ian Watmore, the COO of the government's Efficiency and Reform Group (ERG), told the conference why it would be a bad idea for the government to favour UK firms when purchasing IT services and equipment.

Ian Watmore: Favouring UK IT services and equipment is a bad idea for the government

Ian Watmore: Favouring UK IT services and equipment will not do the economy any favours.
(Photo: Cabinet Office)

"The 'Buying British' thing is one of those classically difficult areas when we have international competition policy that says you cannot do that," he said.

"It is not in our interest to go in for insular buying because the British economy is mostly export-driven.

As well as the wide range of US, French and other foreign IT suppliers used by government, in more recent years, Whitehall has awarded contracts to Indian IT services companies TCS and Wipro.

"We want to see Britain's economy grow on the back of a digital revolution and we find we are more likely to attract indigenous British companies if we make procurement simpler," said Watmore.

Watmore said the government will make an announcement on how it will simplify the process of tendering to provide IT services or equipment to government.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude recently described the money and time it took to become a supplier to government as "horrifying".

"Bid costs range from £20,000 to £200,000 for every month spent doing procurement, and public sector procurements take on average twice as long as the equivalent exercise in the private sector to complete," he said.

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