Opinion

India-UK ties, a ‘living bridge’

Dominic Asquith | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on November 06, 2017

Buzzing Relations between UK and India   -  R Ragu

As an innovation hub, UK has much to offer Indian business, besides building on a history of shared ideas, cultures and habits

“Marriage made in heaven” ... “A well-trodden path”... “Technology doesn’t do market access”... Three phrases that I heard repeated on another busy Friday evening in my garden a little while back. The occasion? The joint launch of the India-UK Future TECH month and the 17-18 TECH Rocketship Awards (TRA) — the British government’s flagship tech entrepreneurship programme.

It was a fitting end to a day which started with a dawn flight to Chandigarh to participate in a discussion with over 100 young thinkers about some of the challenges they were facing, including from one young entrepreneur: “How do you get youth into your business strategy?”

Last year, TRA was launched by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and brought to a close by two prime ministers. There were over 600 applications looking for the chance we were giving to secure investors.

My role this year? A career-first, playing ‘dragon’ at perhaps India’s toughest pitching session. My fellow panellists were India’s finest thought-leaders, funders, torch-bearers of entrepreneurship and Start-Up India. Opposite us were wholly committed and ambitious entrepreneurs.

Partners in enterprise

So let’s take the first phrase, “marriage made in heaven”, referring to UK-India partnership on entrepreneurship. It came from the lips of the father of Indian entrepreneurship. You just can’t buy that credibility. But you are right to want facts.

Technology-led entrepreneurship drives the already-strong traffic of investment between India and the UK. This is carried on a ‘Living Bridge’ of people, language, ideas, culture, education, food, sport but backed up by hard business nous.

India is a top-four investor in the UK, with technology companies accounting for the lion’s share at 31 per cent. Indian IT giants like Infosys, HCL, Wipro and TECH Mahindra find the UK a home from home.

Why? A wealth of skilled domestic talent, UK and London as the world’s best places to develop digital businesses, low corporation tax and fourth place in the global innovation index to name some of many more factors I could list. And I know they want to continue putting their money where their mouth is, increasing their current 13 per cent revenue share from the UK to closer to the 60 per cent from the US.

This reflects the wider India-UK commercial partnership, which has always been strong. India presents huge opportunities for the UK economy and business; bilateral trade is over £16 billion, with positive growth over the last financial year during a tough global environment. The UK is India’s single largest G20 investor in the last ten years investing almost double what Germany and France do combined. One in 20 of those in the organised private sector work for UK firms.

Last year Indian companies safeguarded more jobs in the UK than any other country, even the US. India’s commitment to the abiding strength of the UK economy is demonstrated by the more than 110,000 high skilled jobs which over 800 of its companies provide in the UK. And the numbers are growing year on year.

Responding to needs

Complacency kills innovation and ambition. So I take that second statement, “a well-trodden path”, as a challenge that the UK must become even more responsive to India’s needs as we exit the EU. We have no option but to build an even stronger free-trading nation forming new kinds of partnerships with the world’s leading economies.

This month marks two years since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to London, and one year since our Prime Minister chose India, and more specifically the India-UK Technology Summit, as the landing point for her first overseas trade mission.

Between them, the visits delivered collectively over £10 billion of tech-driven commercial deal deals. Just as important, however, are the closer, more responsive commercial partnerships that have now formed. In the first week of November, the Indian and British science and technology ministers announced the first Newton Bhabha prize covering technology and innovation, presided over by Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, someone who embodies that ‘Living Bridge’. UK startup Kloudpad, who started off with a £100 million investment last year in high-tech electronics in Kochi’s smart city programme, has now enhanced its project value to £290 million. These examples reinforce the popularity and high-level buy-in behind the TRA and Start-Up India.

In this spirit of responsiveness, I am pleased to kick off, alongside our Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox, the India-UK Future TECH month. India needs to produce only fully electric cars from 2030 — that’s why our oversubscribed Electric Vehicle mission will showcase the UK’s best battery power and automation offer across the Midlands and the UK, matching India’s emerging competitive federalism with the UK’s regional offer. Prime Minister Modi envisages Start-Up India helping to provide skilled employment and opportunity to India’s 1 million graduates each month — that’s why we have launched this year’s TECH Rocketship Awards, providing India’s top tech companies with access to investment and mentoring to establish and scale up in the UK. India’s rapidly rising middle class consumes ever more complex creative, virtual reality-driven services — that’s why we are introducing more than 100 Indian tech buyers, innovators, government officials and entrepreneurs to the best technology the UK offers. They will open the eyes of hundreds of potential UK exporters to the Indian opportunity, landing business deals during a series of ‘Meet the Buyer’ events, including Innovate 2017 in Birmingham.

What’s up ahead

And finally to the future. Prime Minister May set out at the start of the year in London and again recently in Florence that our aim is to be a magnet for international talent, a home to innovators who will shape the world ahead, a global free-trading nation that is best friend to European partners and reaches beyond Europe to other leading economies. That means India. Technology doesn’t just care for market access. India’s recent 30 place jump in the global EoDB rankings emphasises the potential for growth together. In the same rankings, the UK remains ahead of Germany and France in a number of areas including starting a business and securing funding. That seems to fit rather well with India’s ambitions.

What we mustn’t do is slow down. Once the India-UK Future Tech month draws to a close, we will drive more traffic over the multi-layered Living Bridge of ideas, technology, capital and culture between India and the UK.



The writer is the British High Commissioner to India

Published on November 06, 2017
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