Tech City deputy CEO Benjamin Southworth hits back at report accusing government of failing to support London tech sector

Deputy CEO of Tech City Benjamin Southworth has hit back at a recent report which revealed a skills shortage and lack of government support in the London tech industry, telling The Drum the findings are only part of the picture.

Report: Benjamin Southworth said findings were not whole picture

The Tech City Futures report from GfK, commissioned by TechCityInsider in partnership with Grant Thornton, City University of London, Digital Shoreditch and Vitamin T, revealed criticisms levelled at the UK government for creating more PR hype than action while failing to adequately fund and support the sector. Almost half (44 per cent) of the companies surveyed in the report said the biggest challenge they faced was a skills shortage.

"It's important to note that the findings from this report are only part of the picture," said Southworth. "There is plenty to celebrate; we have a diverse, thriving ecosystem made up of startups, small companies, academic organisations, investors and large corporates.

"The government has developed policies in direct response to the needs of startups and entrepreneurs, removing the obstacles to success one by one to offer an incredibly powerful package of support for businesses at every stage."

Tech City provides services to support the growth of the tech cluster in East London, attracting new companies and investors and providing support to local companies seeking to expand.

More than three quarters of the companies surveyed by GfK said difficulties in finding skilled digital and tech workers in London was actively restricting growth, alongside a lack of access to capital.

"We support businesses in a number of ways, from helping entrepreneurs set up in Tech City with practical advice and guidance on everything from location to contacts to supporting talent development through community initiatives as well as through mentoring events for local companied," added Southworth.

"We help companies make international connections and enable local companies to expand internationally with tailored advice and guidance on exports and through the links we have with UK Trade and Investment, and their 96 consulates and offices around the globe."

Among the tech and digital job skills companies were struggling to find were coding and developing; marketing and PR; business development; web design; and user experience. 42 per cent of businesses found it difficult to keep their best talent and recruitment was often aimed at replacing staff than filling new roles as a result.

Co-founder of Silicon Milkroundabout, an initiative in London aimed at helping startups find skilled staff and drive growth after identifying difficulties in filling roles, Pete Smith, said the issue was complex.

"What the stats can't reveal is why small tech firms and startups struggle to fill their roles," explained Smith. "Our experience at Silicon Milkroundabout - and we've worked with over 300 tech startups to help them hire through our events - suggests that the issue is far more nuanced than just 'there aren't enough skilled people'.

"The biggest problem, in my view, is that working for a startup is not an automatic career option for most people in the UK. There are tons of amazing, talented software developers, UX designers and product managers in UK academia, in telcos, retail, e-commerce, big tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Google, in advertising agencies and in banks.

"The problem is not that there aren't enough great people in the UK. It's that too many great people don't realise the amazing variety and richness of the options on offer at a tech startup.

"It's easy to jump to conclusions about a skills gap when you look at stats purely from a jobs-offered and jobs-filled perspective, like in this report. Actually, hiring great people is very hard and small businesses and startups face unique challenges."

The report accused the government of "trying to take credit for an economic success story that was happening anyway" and hampering the industry with too much PR.

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