June 11, 2024

What are the UK Conservative Party’s plans for startups?

Sifted spools through all 76 pages of the Conservatives' manifesto

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak has been trying to position himself and the Conservative Party as champions of UK tech for years — but the party’s manifesto, released earlier today in preparation for the July 4th election, isn’t full of details on how to support the sector.

It comes just over a year on from the UK government announcing plans to become “a science and technology superpower” by 2030. Around that time Sunak also ran an investor-marketing campaign in Silicon Valley where he called the UK “Unicorn Kingdom”.

Despite the enthusiasm, the Conservative manifesto doesn’t mention the word “startup” once. But what Conservative policies should the UK’s entrepreneurial sector be paying attention to? Sifted has dug into the 76-page manifesto and pulled out the most important bits. 


Tax incentives for investors

The Conservatives will retain the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) and the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) tax incentive programmes — which are designed to give tax breaks to investors who back new companies.

Under the SEIS, investors in startups raising up to £250k are eligible. EIS offers tax breaks for investors in later stage startups, which raise up to £5m annually or £12m in total. 

R&D tax credits

The manifesto lays out plans to maintain current R&D tax relief for startups. 

The scheme was launched in 2000, and allows founders to claim back part of the money spent on R&D, including payroll, contractors, software and prototype materials, as a tax relief or a cash credit.

But in recent times, startups have complained of payments delays as the UK government began to spend more time processing claims. 

A new fund to support women founders

The party says it will help raise a £250m fund to invest in women founders.

The policy, first announced in March, will look to tackle the huge gender funding gap in the UK startup sector. According to a UK government commissioned report earlier this year, in 2023 just 2% of equity investment went to women entrepreneurs. 

The manifesto is fairly light on the details of how exactly it will assist the fund in raising the cash. It says the party will “work with the British Business Bank and private sector fund managers to secure a £250 million Invest In Women Fund to support female entrepreneurs.”

Mansion House reforms

The Conservatives reasserted their commitment to implementing reforms to encourage pension funds to invest in tech. 

Last year, the UK government announced it had secured an agreement from nine UK pension funds to invest at least 5% of their default funds into the nation’s startups and fast-growing companies by 2030. 

The government claimed it could unlock an additional £75bn to be invested into fast-growing companies in the UK by 2030. 

The reforms were widely welcomed by the startup community — but some warned the VC industry will need to adapt technically to meet pension fund requirements.


Tech adoption in the NHS

The manifesto lays out plans to increase tech adoption in the UK’s public healthcare system, the NHS.

It says that the Conservatives want to use “AI to free up doctors’ and nurses’ time for frontline patient care” and “fund technology to help clinicians read MRI and CT scans more quickly and accurately”.

It also states that the party wants to implement a new medtech pathway so that “cost-effective medtech, including AI, is rapidly adopted throughout the NHS”.

How they’ll do that remains to be seen. Speak to any UK healthtech founder, and they’ll likely tell you just how difficult it is to sell into the NHS — where the vast majority of the country's health spend comes from. 

Earlier this year, Sifted reported that a lack of adoption pathways in the NHS were one of the key hurdles facing AI healthtech startups in the UK.

Kai Nicol-Schwarz

Kai Nicol-Schwarz is a reporter at Sifted. He covers UK tech and healthtech, and can be found on X and LinkedIn