25 June 2024

Three steps to boost foreign investment

By Sak Narwal

How time flies. The general election race is almost up and the competing parties have rolled out their manifesto pledges. While issues such as migration and defence have dominated headlines, a critical area that must not be overlooked is how to strengthen foreign investment.

Over the past few years, the UK government has shown that it values this highly by trying to attract new businesses through investment schemes and a low tax approach. This approach often caters to major multinationals with extensive compliance and regulatory departments. As the co-founder of a small Canadian-founded and now UK-based health start-up, I’ve experienced first-hand how smart ideas can help smaller start-ups and medium-sized enterprises establish themselves in the UK.

When my co-founder Misha Andric and I founded VANA Health in Vancouver almost six years ago, we knew we wanted to set up our business in the UK. This decision was rooted in both our personal connections to the country and the thrilling opportunities for innovative companies looking to get their start. I spent much of my childhood in London, so the city holds a special place in my heart and my connections remained strong. What’s more, the health-conscious lifestyles the UK government and NHS have rightfully encouraged has built a robust market with consumers actively seeking health and wellness products. These factors, combined with a strong manufacturing base and a skilled workforce, made the UK an appealing destination for our business. From our own success, we want to share our input on how to drive UK innovation.

For the UK to continue to attract this kind of foreign investment, there are three things the next government must prioritise.

First, it must proactively support businesses in exploring the UK market. Businesses need temporary visitation visas to explore opportunities like leasing facilities, purchasing equipment, and building connections with local employers. While starting operations under the Innovator Founder visa, companies also need to secure prior approval from a business endorsing body and have a local employee. For companies on shoestring budgets, streamlining this process can help businesses move quickly to decide if the UK is – as we wholeheartedly believe – the best place to do business and grow.

Next, it is vital for the UK to become a world leader in banking. As noted by the 2023 Harrington Review of Foreign Direct Investment, finding ways to help businesses and banks work collaboratively to open accounts will be key. Doing so in a timely fashion is particularly critical since establishing local bank accounts and obtaining a VAT number also requires a National Insurance number. The extended timeline on this can sometimes hinder the ability of foreign businesses to hire local talent and conduct meaningful operations.

Lastly, working collaboratively with friendly nations is paramount. To remain a competitive hub for international businesses, the UK can leverage shared sentiments and existing regulatory frameworks between friendly nations. Preexisting collaborations between countries like Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the US can lay the groundwork for easing visa and regulatory restrictions to foster greater exchange. As globalisation falters, organising around existing relations can afford a balance of national security concerns while fostering continued growth.

Committing to streamlining these processes would attract more foreign investment and nurture an ecosystem where new ideas thrive.

The challenges that we at VANA Health have faced are just one step as a growing UK success story. By highlighting the opportunity for a more open and efficient approach to welcoming foreign businesses, we hope to help other businesses see that the UK is really the best place to do business.

As the election approaches, it’s crucial for policymakers to commit to these reforms. By doing so, the UK can solidify its reputation as a global leader in fostering innovation, entrepreneurialism, and economic growth.

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Sak Narwal is co-founder of VANA Health Inc.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.