Boris Johnson has been urged to include new laws supporting the development of driverless vehicles in next month’s Queen’s Speech or risk seeing investment in the sector flee overseas.
Sky News has seen a letter to the prime minister from a group of some of Britain’s leading business people – including the bosses of Ocado and Virgin Group – in which they warned that the government risks losing ground in the global autonomous vehicles race unless new legislation is introduced this year.
The letter is understood to have been coordinated by Alex Kendall, co-founder and CEO of Wayve, one of the UK’s best-funded AV companies, and Claudio Gienal, who runs the French insurance giant AXA’s UK operations.
In it, the group of around 20 executives tell Mr Johnson that Britain “has a unique opportunity to be a global leader in the development and deployment of AVs, or self-driving vehicles”.
“This technology is the most exciting innovation for transport in decades and has the potential to level-up every corner of the UK, improve the country’s productivity, create jobs, reduce emissions, improve road safety, and bolster opportunities everywhere,” they said.
“The industry has the potential to unleash economic growth across the whole of the UK.”
Their intervention comes amid a boom in funding for driverless vehicle start-ups and as major grocers plough resources into the future of so-called ‘last-mile solutions’, with the UK delivery market alone forecast to be worth £44bn by 2025.
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The signatories, who also include a number of Wayve investors such as Brent Hoberman, co-founder and executive chairman of Firstminute Capital, and Peter Singlehurst, head of private companies at Baillie Gifford, cited research showing that the global AV market may be worth £650bn by 2035.
They said the UK share of this could be almost £42bn, creating 49,000 highly skilled green jobs and a further 23,000 jobs from AV technologies, adding that the transition to driverless cars was “essential to meet the government’s Net Zero target”.
Tim Steiner, co-founder and chief executive of Ocado, Josh Bayliss, the Virgin Group CEO, Simon Gregg, who runs supermarket chain Asda’s e-commerce operations, and a number of insurance and technology industry trade body executives have also signed the letter.
It contained a veiled warning to ministers that time was running out to keep pace with rival regulatory frameworks.
“This is a critical year in the development of this technology, as we see more examples of AVs moving closer to deployment,” the executives wrote.
“The government needs to introduce legislation this year, to ensure the UK remains a world leader in AVs, and continues attracting investment to the UK.
“We are aware that other countries are looking to legislate this year and we strongly recommend that the UK maintains its global stance in this industry.
The letter, which also cited research suggesting that a shift to AVs could eliminate more than nine out of every ten road accidents by 2040, is also understood to have been sent to Cabinet ministers including Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, and Kwasi Kwarteng, business secretary.
Earlier this week, ministers outlined changes to The Highway Code aimed at enabling the wider adoption of AV technology.
They reconfirmed that the government was working on a full legal framework for self-driving vehicles.
“In doing so, we can help improve travel for all while boosting economic growth across the nation and securing Britain’s place as a global science superpower,” Trudy Harrison, a transport minister, said.