Kate's Comment

Thoughts on British ICT, energy & environment, cloud computing and security from Memset's MD

May 2010 budget and the high-tech SME

See updated article based on the June emergency budget: Emergency budget: An IT entrepreneur’s response.

Now that I have had a chance to digest last week’s budget, it does seem that there is goodness in it for companies like Memset:

1) Pushing RBS and Lloyds to lend to small businesses. Despite a healthy, profitable and growing business, we have not been able to get borrowing from any banks under the EFG without providing personal director’s guarantees. We need banks to be willing to share at least a tiny portion of the risk, otherwise we may as well just extend our mortgages even more. As a cloud computing provider we are very capital intensive – our growth rate is limited by cash availability more than anything else. Without borrowing our growth rate is capped at what we, the directors, can afford to leave in the business.

2) Tax breaks for entrepreneurs. I’m pleased to see the increase in tax allowances, however the only significant of those is the freeze on capital gains (we feared it would return to 40%). Doubling the entrepreneur’s allowance to £2m is pretty feeble (Labour capped the old taper relief scheme at £1m, and it was one of the main reasons I started a business – it was a way to avoid 40% tax). The investment allowance doubling to £100k is also only really going to help micro-businesses. The increase in R&D enhanced allowance from 150% to 175% is also helpful, but pretty minor. However, overall the set of allowances means it financial sense for me to keep investing most of my personal wealth back into my business to help it grow as fast as possible rather than sticking it in BASIC countries.

3) More STEM places. I’m pleased to see that they are hearing our (high-tech sector’s) desperate need for science & maths graduates, but that must not come at the expense of university-based “blue sky” research! At present the budget states an intention to create 20,000 new STEM (science, tech, engineering & maths) places, but it looks like most of the money for that will have to come from further cuts to already-overstretched university budgets.

4) Tax breaks for the games industry. It is fantastic to see support for our computer games industry. I have long been frustrated with how much of our top computer programmer and design talent gets poached by foreign companies operating in friendlier environments. Online entertainment is undoubtedly one of the big industries of the future, and among a number of high-tech areas of growth like those identified in Intellect’s Making Britain GreaIT Again publication. It is vital that we support this technical-creative hybrid sector.

5) £6/yeay levy on phones towards superfast broadband. Nice concept, but no where near enough. Only 70% of British homes have broadband at present, and to get high-speed broadband to the majority of homes will cost in the region of £15-25bn pounds according to the likes of BT and the broadband stakeholder group. A fast digital infrastructure is vital to enable turn Britain into a innovation haven, supporting out high-tech industry

6) 15% increase in government contracts to SMEs. This is good news, especially since government contracts all too often are dominated by a small number of very large providers who deliver debatable value for money! However, government procurement processes are vastly over complex and often prohibitively expensive for smaller companies, which is often why the public sector end up paying a premium to the usual suspects. A change to this, at least in the ICT world, is the G-Cloud programme. It should enable smaller, more agile companies to interface with government and provide their services without the usual massive sales-admin burdens (I hope!).

In short, I was fearing that the baby would be thrown out with the bath water in this budget, with a drive to increase taxes and cut costs accidentally crushing the one area on which we are likely to depend for innovating our way out of national debt (high-tech SMEs). Given the likelihood of a hung parliament that was all the more important, so overall I think we can breath something of a sigh of relief.

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