UK should do high-tech the Israeli way, say Labour shadow ministers

By Marcus Dysch, June 6, 2013
Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna

Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna

Britain should follow the successful blueprint of Israel’s high-tech sector to repair its battered economy, according to leading members of the Shadow Cabinet.

Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna said the “remarkable story” seen in Israel’s start-up technology industries could be combined with British skills to boost both countries’ global business appeal.

Mr Umunna was speaking at a Labour Friends of Israel event at Google’s Tech City campus in London. It used video links with teams in Tel Aviv and Lagos, Nigeria, to discuss “tech-cities” and start-up businesses.

Participants included experts from Google’s projects in Israel, the British Embassy’s UK-Israel Tech Hub, and Tsofen, an organisation boosting Arab Israelis’ opportunities in high-tech industry.

Mr Umunna praised the projects he saw during a Shadow Cabinet trip to Israel last year. He said: “We all share a desire to see more start-ups in Britain and need to see far more of that in our economy. We want to increase our trade and we are seeking to learn from others.”

The British government must set up more tech-hubs and do more to back young entrepreneurs, he added.

Liam Byrne, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “One of the most exciting things we saw in Israel was the risk-taking, high-energy tech culture. We have big lessons to learn.”

Mr Byrne said he wanted to create “trade corridors” between British cities which are home to global businesses and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

“There’s the potential for a win-win with Israel where we take great ideas and energy and unite them with our strength in global business. We need to find ways we can make that happen faster,” he said.

Tsofen’s Smadar Nehab predicted that Israel’s highly-educated Arab population would play a key role in the next stage of high-tech growth.

Businessman and philanthropist Sir Trevor Chinn, who was part of last year’s delegation, said: “I’ve been going to Israel for 50 years and this trip was an eye-opener. Britain has people, similar to Israel, who are individualistic, clever and innovative. It could be phenomenal in this country.

“The government has to ease the way and we have to find a way to encourage people that it is worth having a go.”

Tuesday's event was chaired by former Innovation Minister David Lammy MP.

Last updated: 9:33am, June 12 2013