The United Kingdom has a history of building reasonably decent empires.
The recent news that Australian tech company Atlassian is moving their base of operations to the UK is depressing, but completely unsurprising. Sure, Australia’s an expensive place to do business – but the UK are going out of their way to make themselves ludicrously sexy for technology companies.
I first found out about the UK tax incentives when some friendly people from the UK consulate approached me after I’d participated in a panel at the NICTA TechFest 2013 (along side Matt Barrie from Freelancer.com and Professor Stuart Feldman from Google – the guy that created ‘make’, no big deal), discussing ways to address the ICT skills shortage in Australia. At Parliament House. In Canberra. Right before Prime Minister Julia Gillard took the stage to talk about innovation in Australia.
Seriously, at an event to try to help draw attention to technology in Australia these guys came right up to me and basically started talking about all the reasons why I should be trying to move our company to the United Kingdom. I was impressed by their audacity – but I was even more impressed by what they were offering.
The people from the consulate made a good pitch. There’s a 225% tax credit for research and development, they have a thing called the Patent Box offering significant tax breaks on profits made from patents, they’ve got a tech-friendly ‘entrepreneur visa’ to make it easy to get there, decreases in corporations tax, and – oh, what else is there? Oh yeh, it’s right next to EUROPE which has like a jillion people, so a giant market.
Shortly after that, they got in touch and asked if we’d be interested in talking to some of their people in Brisbane (I imagine they try to have tendrils everywhere, so they have well-dressed Englishmen scattered strategically around the country, ready to be dispatched to technology companies at a moments notice). A couple of nice chaps turned up and we had a chat where they went into some more detail about what is involved in moving to the UK.
They also offered to do a bit of an analysis for us to figure out what the market was like in our specific area. This is basically a free service they provide – looking up a bunch of stuff and doing some (fairly basic, but helpful) market analysis for you. Shortly afterwards they sent through a nice report with heaps of detail about telcos and data centres and that sort of thing, with a bit of a reminder about all the other perks.
A few months after that I got an invite to a breakfast put on by London and Partners, the official promotional organisation for the city of London. I went along just to check it out, but it was mostly a repeat of what I already knew – just with a bit more focus on London.
Still, I was again impressed not only by the pitch (PDF), but the simple fact that the United Kingdom is currently focused like a laser on making their country attractive to technology companies. They know the future is about technology and are displaying adaptability accordingly.
It’ll be sad to see Atlassian go. It’ll be sad to watch others follow. It’ll be sad if Australia doesn’t treat this as a wake-up call.