Faites attention! The French are coming
In today’s increasingly specialised automotive world, where new technologies seem to be springing up every five minutes, we Brits could be forgiven for being a little smug. After all, we have long been acknowledged as leaders in the technological sphere, at least in Europe if not further afield. However, perhaps the time has come for us to look to our laurels.
A leading UK and European enterprise technology recruitment specialist was quoted last week as believing that our pre-eminence in this field is coming under threat from the French, and that this will only be exacerbated by the UK leaving the European Union. The newly-elected French President, Emmanuel Macron, has pledged to invest ten billion euros into the hi-tech sector in a bid to secure an influx of talent from beyond Gallic shores. This is coupled with the opening of Station F in Paris - the world’s largest tech startup campus – earlier this summer.
Since the UK electorate’s momentous decision to seek our future outside the EU, the prophets of doom have been warning that this exodus could see British companies leaving these shores to set up elsewhere in the internal market. Indeed, there have already been signs that this may be the case. As the Brexit decision seems to be irrevocable, it is incumbent upon the UK government to ensure that our leading industries remain in this country and are not seduced by Gallic charms and finance.
Much, of course, will depend upon what sort of Brexit our plenipotentiaries are able to negotiate. A so-called ‘hard Brexit’ may cause untold damage, and not only to the hi-tech sector. Two years ago, the French government launched an initiative known as the French Tech Visa to attract international talent by granting residence permits to qualified applicants. Citizens of the European Economic Area and of Switzerland do not, of course, require such permits. We Brits will once the UK has left the EU.
To me, the only possible solutions if we leave the internal market are two-fold. One would see the UK government spending a great deal of money to incentivise the hi-tech sector, something which may or may not work. The second, and more long term, initiative would be to invest heavily in technical education and the setting up of specialised institutions on the scale of the French Station F. It may, however, already be too late for this.
Simon Duval Smith
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