Analysis: CBR speaks to tech stakeholders to find out whether George Osborne’s latest plans lived up to their hopes.
George Osborne, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, set out his latest budget on 16 March.
Expectations for the Budget from the digital sector were high, with many industry stakeholders hoping for give-aways to their particular field.
TechUK said that many of the announcements would be "welcomed by the tech sector."
This was Osborne’s first budget since Ofcom’s Digital Communications Review, which called for a greater role for alternative fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband networks alongside BT’s copper networks. The budget established a new Broadband Investment Fund, in partnership with private sector investors, to provide finance to support ‘alternative’ broadband networks.
Alternative, here, presumably means competitors to BT that deploy FTTP, such as Hyperoptic and CityFibre, both of which have this week announced major broadband projects in Salford and South End respectively.
The budget also planned to deliver a 5G strategy in 2017, as part of a broader aim to make the UK a leader in this area. A large amount of government spectrum will now be auctioned off by 2022. Osborne also announced funding for ultrafast coverage in the South West and cut planning restrictions for mobile network infrastructure.
Funding was also provided to establish a panel of experts to shape the £20 million Institute for Coding competition, as well as an investment of £10m in a new hub for data science.
The Chancellor also announced plans to carry out trials of driverless cars on the Strategic Road Network by the end of 2017
So how have people reacted to these announcements?
Infrastructure and connectivity
Alongside investments in infrastructure more broadly, the budget focused on building digital infrastructure, including wireless and wired connectivity.
The decision to cut restrictions around mobile masts and allow them to be built in more areas, in order to improve cellular connectivity, attracted both praise and criticism.
Hubert Da Costa, Vice President, EMEA at Cradlepoint, said that the move was a "good thing for both consumers and businesses", as it would be impossible to provide wired connectivity to the whole UK.
However, while applauding the intention of tackling not-spots (areas with no connectivity), Scott Willis CEO of wireless network specialist, Zinwave, said that the method was "unnecessary".
He said that "the UK Government will likely send shivers down the spines of campaigners who have fought long and hard against aesthetically unpleasing base stations", and argued that making use of existing infrastructure would be a far better way of tackling the issue.
Certainly some multinational companies may be concerned about the Budget’s plans to cut down on overseas tax avoidance. However, many applauded Osborne’s cuts to taxation.
Chris Francis, UK Government Relations Director at SAP UK, applauded the tax breaks for SMEs and "more than doubling" tax relief for companies.
Mubaloo Chairman, Mark Mason, also applauded the cuts in the headline rate of corporation tax.
Stuart Miller, CEO of ByBox and Chairman of the Small Business Charter, however, said that tech entrepreneurs had been passed over, especially by the capping of tax relief on losses.
"For inventors it is a huge restriction, as most tech companies make losses before profits," he said.
Several tech companies lambasted Osborne for not focusing enough on educating the workforce that the UK would need to be a digital champion.
"The government’s strategy has some merit, but it has previously recognised a digital skills gap that impedes the country’s economic progress and needs to do more. Investment needs to be increased and it would have been good to have seen that reflected in the Chancellor’s speech," said Alan Trefler, CEO and Founder of Pegasystems.
Bhuwan Kaushik, CEO of IT implementation specialist Spectromax, described Osborne’s lack of focus on correcting the skills gap as "worrying" and claimed that he was not providing incentives for employers to offer on the job training.
Mark Wilkinson, SAS Regional Vice President – Northern Europe and Russia/CIS, also argued that education needed to be prioritised, saying that the current and future workforces needed to be up-skilled in areas such as analytics, business intelligence and data management.
This would allow the UK to "uncover new opportunities for the UK and compete in an information economy on a global stage."
Meanwhile, Matt Meckes, technical director at Cohaesus, said he was disappointed by the lack of focus on apprenticeships in the budget.
Many industry stakeholders responded positively to the driverless car plans. Alex Holt, Partner and Head of Telecoms at KPMG, said that "while some people may be terrified about the prospect of autonomous or driverless vehicles on the streets of the UK, in my view it’s a reality they’ll need to get used to."
Holt said that the driverless car announcement would encourage more investment in telecoms networks.
Ricky Cooper, VP EMEA and APAC at Digital Realty also welcome the "green light" being given to driverless cars, but argued that investment was needed in the infrastructure that would support driverless cars.
Meanwhile Stian Westlake, Executive Director of Policy and Research at Nesta, was similarly supportive but said that getting regulation right would be "crucially important."