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Opinion

Investment and innovation — the building blocks for UK and India beyond Brexit – analysis

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Today marks a landmark moment for the United Kingdom (UK). As we leave the European Union (EU) after 47 years, we will look to embrace economic opportunity with a newly energised approach to trade, strengthening historic ties and forging new partnerships. I imagine this is not unlike India’s ambition as it looks to reclaim its economic momentum. The UK remains among the world’s most innovative and open economies, at the forefront of new industries, with the joint lowest corporation tax rate in the G20; home to a third of Europe’s artificial intelligence (AI) start-ups and twice as many as any other country; and the highest concentration of financial and professional firms in the world.

In the four years I have been here, an additional 150 UK companies have invested in the Indian market, while the combined revenue of Indian companies in the UK has more than doubled. Between June 2016 and December 2019, Indian issuers raised over £9.1 billion on the London Stock Exchange through masala, dollar and green bonds. In fact, the world’s first masala bond was issued during my tenure; I’ve personally witnessed our partnership deliver jobs and prosperity for both countries

The CDC Group, the UK’s development finance institution, invests more in India than anywhere else in the world, with more than 300 projects valued at £1.3 billion and supporting around 350,000 direct jobs.

In the other direction, there are some 850 Indian companies in the UK employing almost 105,000 people. These companies together raised almost £48 billion in revenue last year.

Beyond numbers, it’s equally important to celebrate our potential to make a difference in people’s lives. The UK and India are working together on AI to deliver better health care for all, on fintech to assist financial inclusion and payments solutions, and on cyber security to protect important personal and public assets from virtual (but very real) threats.

In 2018, our respective prime ministers launched the UK-India Tech Partnership, with a vision of bringing together some of the best minds working in tech to unlock that potential and address the global challenges that affect us all. As part of which, earlier this week in Pune, we launched a £4-million “Innovation Challenge Fund” to support collaborative research into emerging technologies in India. It proved to be an immediate catalyst for creating partnerships.

This builds on the world-leading research partnership we have already built, which includes over 200 projects, over 175 research institutions and more than 100 industry partners. I am delighted that the UK is now India’s second biggest research partner with joint research expected to be worth £400 million by 2021.

Some of the best conversations I’ve had in India have been with dynamic entrepreneurs — the thinkers and the doers — with their exciting tech ideas. Which is why I’m thrilled that we’ve been able to introduce a wide range of initiatives to connect them early on to the resources they need — the right mentors and investors. Working with the Indian High Commission in London and FICCI, for example, we are supporting a dozen Indian scale-ups on a visit to the UK as part of the TechXchange programme.

Similarly, the Tech Rocketship Award and Fintech Rocketship Award have helped connect tech entrepreneurs from the UK and India. Winners include the Internet of Things start-up, GetmyParking, which has raised £3.4 million and provides new age solutions to parking transactions; and Thinkerbell Labs, whose self-learning braille literacy device for the visually impaired is being used by schools across seven cities.

A couple of months ago, 18 Indian tech start-ups were selected at the Go Global summit to be mentored by experts from the UK on how to scale their business and support sustainable and inclusive growth in India. This included S4S Technologies, which has developed a solar dehydration technology that helps boost farmers’ income by reducing losses; and OCEO Water, a smart water purifier that makes clean water more affordable and accessible. These start-ups will be a champion for the UK-India Tech Hub and pass on their expertise to future cohorts of Go Global.

It would be impossible to do justice to the number of exchanges I have had, but there has been a recurring question across most of them — “how do I set up an office in the UK?” OCEO has already registered their company in the UK and is also collaborating with UK universities. Understandably so. The UK is one of the world’s best places to start or scale an entrepreneurial business. Streamlined processes mean that a company can be registered and ready to trade within 48 hours, and a London address attracts clients. The UK witnessed a record year in terms of investments into its technology sector last year, worth £10 billion. London alone attracted nearly £7.5 billion — more than any other European city.

Many have asked me during my last month in India about what I am most proud of from my time here. Not an easy question. But before I say phir milenge (we will meet again) to this wonderful country, I will submit that I leave feeling proud that so much of the UK-India relationship is now focused on collaboration, and on an agenda that is firmly facing the future.

Dominic Asquith is British High Commissioner to India

The views expressed are personal

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