UK and India: Partnering to innovate and grow together
While a post-Brexit trade pact remains in the works, the two countries are taking some decisive steps as part of their Tech Partnership.
As the UK government reviews its international trading links, there has never been a more important time to put the spotlight on the UK’s relationship with India – a nation which is quickly emerging as an important global player in tech.
A partnership built on success
India is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing economies, an emerging tech powerhouse. Already the world’s second largest smartphone market, it is on course to become the second largest market for IT generally by the end of 2018. New initiatives, such as Digital India (potentially worth £45 billion over 10 years), Smart Cities (£20-24 billion over 10 years), and Make in India, are set to transform its tech economy.
The UK’s digital economy is also booming, worth more than £116 billion a year and employing more than 2 million people. The UK continues to be a competitive destination for international investors, with a tech sector that is larger than the rest of Europe combined. The UK is well-placed to support partnerships that encourage mutual growth of tech sectors at home and abroad. It has an active venture capital community, more tech ‘unicorns’ than elsewhere in Europe, a network of incubators and tech clusters, world-leading talent and links between industry, universities and research institutions.
There is already a strong, enduring history of collaboration between the two nations. The UK has been the largest G20 investor in India over the last 10 years, while Indian FDI stock in the UK stood at £1.5 billion in 2016 with the fourth largest number of investment projects. Technology has long stood at the forefront of this partnership with close to 30 per cent of Indian companies’ 110,000 employees in the UK working in tech and telecoms. With the bilateral trade in goods and services worth £18 billion in 2017 and seeing year-on-year growth of 15 per cent, India is now set to become a priority area and a natural fit for the UK’s newly developing global relationships.
Growing through shared innovation
Many companies have already benefited from relationship between India and the UK. Yet, there is still more both countries can gain by partnering in innovation. Both countries recognise this and there is considerable work under way to help tech businesses to forge valuable ties.
A major initial step was Theresa May’s first bilateral trip outside Europe and first trade mission as Prime Minister to India. Ahead of the visit, in November 2016, techUK and the Indian National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) wrote a joint letter to Prime Ministers May and Modi, calling for a deepened tech relationship to unlock a new wave of digital growth, pioneer innovation partnerships, international talent; share best practice on digital skills, and to reach a trade agreement fit for digital.
UK-India Working Group
Since then, techUK has been moving these priorities forward. Supported by the Indian High Commission in London, the UK’s Department of International Trade (DIT), NASSCOM, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and leading UK and Indian tech, the first UK-India Working Group was held at techUK and has started to inform the direction of the UK-India tech trade relationship. In February 2018, this was followed by supporting the Northern Powerhouse’s DIT Trade Mission to Hyderabad, Bangalore and Mumbai. techUK is also the UK tech partner for the Access India Programme – a flagship programme to assist the UK’s SMEs with market entry and access to make it in India.
Ecosystem of support
Progress would not have been possible without a growing ecosystem of support for Indian companies in the UK and those from the UK wishing to venture into India.
The UK government launched UK-India Week to encourage bilateral trade partnership, while the DIT continues to run the India-UK Rocketship Awards, which help Indian companies scale up, internationalise and access capital by connecting India’s fast-rising tech stars with UK’s network. UK businesses are now also supported by the City of London Corporation, which helps fintech companies expand collaboration with India.
Tech Partnership and techUK-NASSCOM Alliance
A trade agreement is still some way off, but this patchwork of initiatives culminated in the launch of the UK-India Tech Partnership in April 2018. At the core, the Partnership illustrates a joint willingness to intensify collaboration on strengths, investment, innovation and create partnerships between both world-class innovation clusters.
As part of the broader UK-India Tech Partnership, techUK has also formed a new UK-India Tech Alliance with NASSCOM, bringing senior tech leaders to offer advice to the governments on collaboration, skills, new technologies, and developing policy to nurture growth.
Since the launch of the Tech Partnership, there has been significant progress. For example, both countries are now driving innovation and R&D, establishing new links between UK regional and Indian state-level tech clusters. This includes pairing businesses, venture capitalists and universities. With funding of £1 million for the pilot (and potential up to a further £13 million by 2022), the initial links will connect the UK’s Midlands Engine with Maharashtra, focusing on the Future of Mobility, including low emission and autonomous vehicles, battery storage and vehicle light-weighting. Additional connections are planned between the Northern Powerhouse and Karnataka with a focus on augmented and virtual reality, advanced materials and artificial intelligence.
techUK’s call for a UK-India Tech Hub in India has also been answered. The Hub will be a platform to share the best technologies; bring together hi-tech companies to create investment and export opportunities; and advance policy collaboration on future mobility, advanced manufacturing and healthcare IT.
There are also encouraging steps being taken in immigration policy, including the extension of the Super Priority Visa to a further two Indian cities (Pune and Bangalore) and the new ‘start-up visas’ for Indian entrepreneurs in the UK. We continue to support both governments in developing a robust skills and talent migration policy that allows for frictionless movement of tech skills and talent across the borders.
techUK’s current focus
Our activities do not stop there. techUK is also engaged to ensure both UK and India tech policies are aligned. For example, on India’s Data Protection Bill, collaboration on a multilateral level and on skills development. We are supporting the Government in delivering the UK Digital Strategy and tackling the Grand Challenges set out in the UK’s Industrial Strategy. Furthermore, we have launched the UK-India Tech Forum for businesses to engage with key stakeholders in government and business on UK-India trade, policy and market growth.
We’re also preparing for the FutureTech Festival. In addition to my role participating on a high-level panel, techUK is supporting the DIT’s trade mission and organising an Alliance meeting in Delhi, where businesses will discuss strategic areas for cooperation.
The relationship the UK fosters with growing digital economies is paramount as it looks to build a Global Britain. Working with members and partners, techUK is determined to build on the already successful relationship between the UK and India. As this relationship develops, it is important that both hubs support policies that encourage trade growth. For the UK, that means ensuring post-Brexit migration is fit for purpose. For India, we encourage the Government to ensure it doesn’t inhibit international data flows, which are the life blood of the modern digital economy.
The ambitious UK-India Tech Partnership brings together the best minds in tech to unlock its potential, deliver high-skilled jobs and economic growth. In embracing this partnership fully, the like-minded ambition and dedication to innovation will supercharge both digital economies for the future.
Julian David is the CEO of techUK – representing the interests of the tech industry. He was appointed Director General of Intellect in 2012 and led its transformation to techUK in 2013.