Salesforce announces $2.5 billion investment in the UK amid Brexit uncertainty

  • Cloud computing company Salesforce has announced a $2.5 billion investment in the U.K. over the next five years ahead of Prime Minister Theresa May's Tech Investment Roundtable.
  • The announcement follows the opening last month of the company's first European innovation center in Salesforce Tower London.
  • The news will be a welcome boost for May, who is currently contending with a government split over Brexit.

Cloud computing company Salesforce announced a £1.9 billion ($2.5 billion) investment in the U.K. over the next five years ahead of Prime Minister Theresa May's Tech Investment Roundtable on Wednesday.

The San Francisco-based firm, notable for its customer relationship management (CRM) platform used by multinational companies around the world, said it plans to increase headcount, data center capacity and office space in the U.K. as its customer base expands.

The announcement follows the opening last month of the company's first European innovation center in Salesforce Tower London, which will leverage cloud, social, mobile, artificial intelligence and internet of things technologies to drive services. It will open its second U.K. data center in 2019.

British Prime Minister Theresa May championed the investment. "Salesforce offers a wonderful example of the benefits a successful technology company can bring to the U.K. economy, and I welcome their continued investment which will create interesting and high-skilled jobs for our workforce," she said in a statement released by Salesforce.

Marc Benioff, CEO of SalesForce speaking the 2018 WEF in Davos, Switzerland.
Adam Galica | CNBC
Marc Benioff, CEO of SalesForce speaking the 2018 WEF in Davos, Switzerland.

The news will be a welcome boost for May, who is currently contending with a government split over Brexit. The prime minister narrowly escaped a major defeat on Tuesday over the government's EU Withdrawal Bill after assurances were given to rebellious MPs within her own party that they would have a greater say over what happens in the event of a "no deal" scenario.

European leaders are due to discuss the issue at a summit in late June. Businesses and politicians alike have pressed the government over the uncertainty ahead, putting ever-increasing pressure on London and Brussels to reach a compromise. The U.K. is due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019.

UK maintains tech dominance though confidence decreases

London remains Europe's top hub for tech investment despite Brexit uncertainty, and in 2017 U.K. tech firms took in almost four times more funding than Germany and more than Sweden, France and Italy combined, according to London & Partners, the Mayor of London's official promotional agency. Some 2.1 million people are now employed in the country's digital tech economy.

The Salesforce move follows major investment and expansion announcements in the U.K. by the likes of tech leaders Apple, Amazon and Google in the last year.

Meanwhile, business confidence has still decreased — U.K. growth hit a five-year low of 0.1 percent in the first quarter of 2018 as business investment shrank by 0.2 percent.

Tech firms have long been lobbying the U.K. government for clarity on the terms of its departure from the EU. Many say the Brexit decision has already hurt the sector thanks to loss of access to European funds and an impediment on attracting foreign talent into the country.

U.K.-focused funds saw a drop of 91 percent in funding between 2016 and 2017 from the European Investment Fund, the EU's investment arm. The country's funds attracted just £53 million ($70 million) for the year, according to its most recent annual report.

More than £2.3 billion in private investment and 1,600 new jobs are to be announced at the prime minister's tech event Wednesday, as well as government ventures including a new start-up visa regime and a £2.5 billion British Patient Capital Fund aimed at helping U.K. companies scale up and go global.

May celebrated the commitments, saying in an official press release, "The measures we are announcing today will allow innovative British start-ups to invest in their future — and in the U.K. – by hiring more skilled people, expanding their business and exporting their expertise across the world."