Will the Chancellor deliver certainty for the UK tech industry?
All eyes will be on the Chancellor for this year’s Autumn Budget, a budget which is overshadowed by political uncertainty and the exit of the UK from the EU in less than 500 days.
As Philip Hammond prepares to address Parliament, many in the tech industry will be hoping for a renewal of commitment to the sector, building on the promises and investments of the budget at the beginning of the year.
Looking back at the Spring Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond had a heavy focus on the technology sector, including the vision of making the UK superfast with a £120m investment into broadband infrastructure. Using this investment, the government aimed to deliver ‘full fibre’ to every part of the country, in addition to earmarking a further £16m for the creation of a 5G hub to trial future mobile technology.
Another big focus of the Spring Budget included artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, with the Chancellor pledging a £270m investment into emerging technology R&D. Aiming to tap the productivity, societal and environmental benefits of emerging tech, the government committed to putting the UK at the forefront of disruptive technologies including robotics, biotech and driverless vehicles.
STEM and digital skills was another big takeaway of the Spring Budget, with the Chancellor looking to encourage more people to take a path in technology or IT and develop new skills for the workplace of the future. A huge £500m of additional funding was pledged to digital skills, as well as plans to provide funds for 1000 new PhD and fellowship positions in STEM.
The Spring Budget followed hot off the heels of the government’s Digital Strategy, with the Chancellor delivering significant investment to the core areas outlined in the Digital Strategy. However, fast forward to November and we on the eve of the Autumn Budget, with many looking to see if the commitment to tech and digital is still as strong, or if it has fallen to the wayside amidst global political uncertainty.
In fact, according to experts, technology is set for a starring role in the Chancellor’s address to Parliament.
First and foremost, 5G is set to be a core target for the Government, with Matt Hancock recently detailing his vision of the UK occupying a global leadership position in the mobile technology. Speaking at the BSG conference earlier this month, the Minister of State for Digital said: “Our economy has the biggest digital economy, by proportion, of major nations, and we have one of the highest percentages of individual Internet usage.
“We have announced that up to £645 million is to be made available to help take superfast broadband coverage to 98 per cent of the nation over the next few years. In the coming months, we will be examining the market for investment in future connectivity in the UK, to ensure we have markets and regulations that encourage investment now and in the future.
“This commitment to developing a full fibre Britain will make the country the best place in the world for a telecommunications company to invest, because with full fibre comes unlimited potential for business.”
Expectations are high that the government will continue its commitment to 5G, with a further £160m set to be announced on top of the £200m spring allocation. Hopes are also high that the government will build on the progress seen with the Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill and offer added incentives to businesses.
William Newton, President & EMEA MD at WiredScore, said: “Earlier this year, the Government announced its intention to support business rate reliefs on new 5G Mobile and full fibre broadband in the Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill.
“This proposal was received favourably by network providers, and we are now witnessing commitments such as that made by Openreach chair Mike McTighe confirming a plan to bring fibre to 10 million premises before Christmas.
“The impact of business rates incentives has already been shown to be successful in spearheading improvements to the country’s digital infrastructure. We now need to see digital skills getting the same treatment.”
AI is also set to be a headliner of the Autumn Budget, with Hammond set to bolster the £270m Spring investment with a further £75m. AI is not the only emerging tech to have grabbed government attention in recent times, with driverless cars also expected to grab a share of the budget spoils.
Alongside an expected £100m investment into the development of batteries for vehicles, Hammond has stated his clear goal of getting driverless cars on the road by 2021. With such an ambitious goal, expect significant investment to be made in order to get industry and government moving.
A key benefactor of the driverless race will be UK manufacturing, with the Chancellor’s high-tech push indicative of efforts to maintain the UK’s competitiveness in the current turbulent political landscape.
Stephen Dyson, Head of Industry 4.0 at Proto Labs, said: “Further investment will help the UK’s manufacturing industry maintain its competitive position in what could be a turbulent year ahead, supporting innovation within businesses and encouraging more young people to pursue careers within manufacturing.”
Investing in such technologies will put the UK at the forefront of development, competing with the big names in the tech world from the likes of Silicon Valley. In addition, the productivity and efficiency gains garnered from emerging tech will boost the Chancellor’s bottom line.
Raj Samani, Chief Scientist and Fellow at McAfee: “With its strong manufacturing heritage, it’s unsurprising that the government has high hopes for the UK to be a global leader in driverless car technology and to “lead the next industrial revolution”.
However, it’s all well and good having high hopes for emerging technology, but you need a skilled workforce to make a real success of it. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the government is expected to push hard once again on digital skills and STEM, with an additional £100m on the cards. This investment will go towards an additional 8,000 fully-qualified computer science teachers supported by a new National Centre for Computing, with a further £76m to boost digital and construction skills.
In the last week alone the UK Government has announced a £20m investment in a new cyber-security programme, encouraging students in years 10-13 to develop their cyber security skills, also looking at potential career paths they could take in the future.
Dr Jamie Graves, CEO and founder of ZoneFox, said: “The cyber threat landscape is evolving constantly, yet at the same time we’re suffering a huge skills shortage. It is imperative that we equip the next generation with the ability to fight a cyber battle that will continue to dominate businesses, infrastructure and headlines alike.
“As such, it’s vital to invest more money into STEM subjects, which could be used to fund a recruitment drive in schools that teach cyber security skills. Above all, more needs to be done to effectively communicate the opportunities that possessing cyber security skills can bring.”
“There’s no doubt that we need the skills these individuals can offer, both now and in the future, which is where the value of cyber security career education initiatives and rehab programmes for ex-black hats becomes most apparent.”
It is not just about giving younger generations the skills that they need to adapt to the changing world of technology, but about demonstrating that there are more career pathways available than ever before.
AI, robotics and cyber security all offer opportunities for prospective careers in the future, which digital skills development aims to equip young and existing workers for.
Guita Blake, SVP & Head of Europe at Mindtree, said: “As we read of more and more industries starting to be impacted by the rise of automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, it is imperative that we are investing in a new kind of training – now – to ensure that young people are equipped for the new job roles of the future.
“The robots are coming, and an investment from government needs to be made now to ensure we have the brightest minds to usher in the AI-era, whilst also creating new careers and skills that may not have been previously imagined.”
With the robots on their way, the government is expected to put huge sums into R&D. The Government has announced an extra £2.3bn in R&D by 2021/22 ahead of the Budget tomorrow, bringing the annual total to £12.5bn.
This year’s budget is set to make a bold commitment to the technology and digital sectors, with the government recognising these sectors as imperative for a UK post-Brexit. Like every citizen, business leader and MP alike, these turbulent times call for one thing from the Chancellor – certainty.
“All businesses are facing increased uncertainty and an urgent need to get their houses in order ahead of whatever is thrown at them post-Brexit. This budget must give certainty, where little currently exists, by setting out a clear path to provide business with the tools they need for the future. The Chancellor has said he wants to put the UK at ‘the forefront of the global technology revolution’. Now is the time to make good on that desire,” said Julian David, CEO of techUK.
“That means getting more businesses to adopt basic digital processes that will enable them to take advantage of future productivity boosters like AI and prepare for new digital mechanism of taxation. It also means setting a clear path to meet the Government’s commitment to increase R&D spending, at a time when many businesses are already feeling the pinch from uncertainty around EU programmes like Horizon 2020.
“Tech businesses are global by nature, and many won’t simply wait around forever. Progress is needed on Brexit, and this budget is a golden opportunity for the Government to show that it is truly able to prepare the UK for our future outside the EU.”