EARLIER this month Sky Betting & Gaming launched in Italy – our first expansion away from these shores – and Italian customers are now enjoying our market-leading sports betting website and app.
The team that built this product, and the technology that supports and maintains it, are based right here in Yorkshire in our Sheffield and Leeds offices.
We have also recently hired a managing director for our fledgling German business and he is busy examining how best to manage our expansion there.
Expanding into Europe, exporting digital services overseas, and building an international technology business from our Yorkshire base – all of these developments have taken place since the referendum in June.
In many ways for our sector that historic day changed very little. There is no single market for gambling and, despite years of talk, no digital single market. We have therefore continued to invest in our business, adding over 500 jobs in the last year, opening graduate academies, expanding into new office space and looking overseas for new opportunities whilst many other companies have faced uncertainty.
With the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, it is therefore vital that the Government provides the right regulatory, tax, and infrastructure support to allow us, and other Yorkshire tech companies, to continue building home-grown digital companies that the whole region, indeed the whole country, can be proud of.
If the Government’s industrial strategy is about focusing support on sectors in which we have natural advantages, then they should look no further than the vibrant tech communities of Leeds and Sheffield.
So I’m hoping for a number of things from the Chancellor. First – having changed the way online gaming is taxed, hitting the industry for an additional £150m a year, and planning to charge our sports betting business another 10 per cent levy on horse racing – maintaining the current rates of gambling duties is crucial if we are to continue our investment into the Yorkshire economy.
We are due to pay around half a billion pounds in taxes over the next three years – very few international tech companies contribute anything like that to the British exchequer.
Secondly, Government must now act to improve the transport infrastructure that connects the Northern cities with each other, and the rest of the world.
Leeds Bradford is a fantastic airport and (helpfully for us) serves Rome. But with no direct rail link between it and Leeds city centre the most frustrating part of the trip is actually getting to and from the airport. Such a rail link would help boost the airport’s expansion plans and help connect the city’s businesses with their export markets.
A final decision must also be made quickly on the location of the HS2 rail station in Sheffield. I’ve called before for it to be located in the city centre so that it connects Sheffield more effectively with Leeds and Manchester. Further delays are unwelcome and in my view unnecessary.
The same can be said for cross- Pennine transport projects. Successive governments have made difficult, long- term decisions to ensure London is served by Crossrail. Yet in the North things don’t seem to have happened in the same way.
Better cross Pennine rail links would go a long way to creating a single, highly skilled, labour market that businesses outside of London could more easily access. And it would help the Government demonstrate its commitment to the “economic and cultural revival of all of our great regional cities” that the Prime Minister talked about in her Conservative Party conference speech.
With so much of the Government’s attention rightly focused on securing the best deal for the country from Brexit, it is important that they do not forget that for many companies the priority is action and decisions on issues closer to home. We hope to see this recognised by the Chancellor today.
Richard Flint is managing director of Sky Betting & Gaming.