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Psion founder: Britain needs R&D

Financial services won't pay the rent

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Britain can't depend on the City of London alone for its future prosperity, veteran entrepreneur Sir David Potter warned this week.

"To our credit we have a successful financial sector," he told The Register. "But then you have to ask how long that is durable. And you look at the very large current accounts deficit, and ask whether that really can be filled by the financial sector alone. I would question that - but history will have to decide."

The Psion chairman was speaking to us for a major retrospective on the company's achievements that we'll publish next week. Potter has remained chairman of the company he founded in 1980 with £70,000 of his own capital. He is also a non-executive director of the Bank of England, and active in education.

Today, Psion is a B2B industrial technology company, and turned over £190m in revenue last year - more than in the days when it pioneered so many mobile computing technologies, and had a high profile consumer electronics brand. Psion withdrew from the consumer business seven years ago, and sold its stake in Symbian - a Psion spin-out - in 2004.

Potter also questions the conventional wisdom that a service sector can provide Britain's long-term prosperity.

"Governments, both Conservative and Labour have followed the idea that a service industry is fine. They haven't said that in their speeches and their policy statements, but by the policy actions they've taken, that's been the effect," he said.

"It's an Anglo thing, and I think it's mistaken. Because in the long run we need all these things. You need the ability to design and innovate and create the way you address markets. If you don't control the design and innovation of those business processes - hardware, services, and software - then you don't really keep a hold on the ownership - and the realisation of where the profits and values comes back to. That's been the failure of Britain."

Potter said strategic policy was required to encourage sectors such as science and manufacturing, because the City of London was attracting the best graduates.

Potter said he now regretted leaving the consumer electronics business.

On Monday, we'll look back on Psion's roller-coaster years as a consumer electronics pioneer, interviewing several of the key figures at what insiders believe could have become the "British Sony".

Stay tuned. ®

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