UK targets light-touch regulation to boost tech sector, minister says

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By Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain launched a digital strategy on Monday focused on simplifying regulation, supporting critical technologies like semiconductors and tackling skills gaps to help drive economic growth.

Tech minister Chris Philp said UK firms had raised more than 12 billion pounds ($14.6 billion) in venture capital so far this year, second only to the United States, and the new plan would ensure the country remained a science and tech superpower.

Government would work across departments to support critical future technologies, such as quantum computing and advanced semiconductors, he said.

The country's position in semiconductors suffered a major blow in 2016 when flagship company ARM was sold to Japan's Softbank.

The chip designer is now set to be floated after a sale to Nvidia collapsed earlier this year, with Softbank favouring the U.S. Nasdaq market for the listing rather than London.

Philp, however, said Britain was still involved in the process. "We're working closely with ARM as we work closely with all significant UK tech companies," he told Reuters at London Tech Week.

Regulation was another tool that would be used to encourage innovation in areas such as data analytics and AI, he said.

"Now that we are out of the European Union, we see an opportunity to create a light touch, unintrusive, pro-innovation regulatory environment," he said.

"And we're going to we're going to make that a source of national competitive advantage."

Other elements of the plan include tackling skills gaps, he said, and encouraging UK pension funds to invest more in growing tech companies.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak announced a review of Britain's advanced computing capabilities led by AI expert Zoubin Ghahramani, Cambridge professor and vice president of research at Google.

U.S. networking giant Cisco also said at the event it would expand its digital acceleration programme in Britain.

"After seven years of continuous investment in the UK economy in digitisation, Cisco is signing up for another multi year series of investments: in education, in healthcare, and in infrastructure," said Global Innovation Officer Guy Diedrich.

($1 = 0.8224 pounds)

(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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