LONDON (Reuters) - The government will create a new “entrepreneur visa” and reform its intellectual property laws to try to develop a budding cluster of start-ups in East London into a hub of high-tech firms to rival Silicon Valley.
Prime Minister David Cameron announced Thursday that the government had secured promises of investments in the project from the likes of Internet giant Google, computer chipmaker Intel and social networking site Facebook.
“Right now, Silicon Valley is the leading place in the world for high-tech growth and innovation. But there’s no reason why it has to be so predominant,” Cameron said in a speech to an audience of venture capitalists and start-up entrepreneurs.
The government last month announced a four-year plan of deep cuts in public spending to tackle a record budget deficit. Almost no area of government spending will be spared the axe and half a million public sector jobs are expected to be lost.
Cameron says he wants to create better conditions for the private sector to generate jobs and growth. The ambition to see a world-class “East London Tech City” is part of that agenda.
It would stretch from the trendy Shoreditch and Old Street areas, where the number of technology start-ups has grown from 15 to over 100 in the past three years, eastward to the Olympic Park, which will be available after the 2012 Games are over.
Cameron said the Olympic Park would offer flexible work and recreational spaces and quick access to international transport links. The proximity of several top-flight universities meant the area had the potential to grow into a new Silicon Valley.
Cameron said the proposed new “entrepreneur visa” would allow people with great business ideas and the backing of serious investors to set up shop more easily in Britain.
He said the existing “Tier 1” immigration route for skilled workers, introduced by the previous government, had failed, with a third of Tier 1 migrants doing unskilled work in Britain.
The Tier 1 route includes an “entrepreneur visa,” but take-up has been low, with only 120 issued in 2009. A spokesman for Cameron said the criteria would be revised to make the new visa a lot more attractive to entrepreneurs.
The proposal comes at a time when the government is working on plans to introduce a cap on immigration, in line with a pre-election pledge from Cameron’s Conservative party.
Some in the Liberal Democrat party, the junior partner in the two-party coalition government, are uncomfortable with the cap. Business Secretary Vince Cable, a Lib Dem, has argued that it would harm business interests by keeping top talent out.
The “entrepreneur visa” could be part of Cameron’s response to those concerns.
Cameron also said that a company like Google could never have started up in Britain because of a copyright system that is not as open to innovation as it is in the United States.
“So I can announce today that we are reviewing our intellectual property laws, to see if we can make them fit for the Internet age,” he said.
He listed a series of commitments from well-known companies to invest in the East London Tech City project.
Projects will include an Intel research lab focussing on performance computing and energy efficiency, an “innovation hub” from Google where researchers, developers and academics can pool ideas, and a permanent London home for Facebook’s “Developer Garage” program for new talent in high-tech fields.
Network equipment maker Cisco will establish an innovation centre in the Olympic Park, while telecoms group BT will roll out superfast broadband in the area to give it some of the fastest Internet speeds in Europe, Cameron said.
Editing by Jon Loades-Carter
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