Can the UK still remain a digital leader with the budget Hammond set out?
Chancellor Phillip Hammond put his money where his mouth was in his Autumn Budget announcement, with technology taking a central role in his plans to to boost the UK’s status and economy.
Hammond demonstrated his and the UK Government’s commitment to the technology industry as he pledged millions into the likes of AI, broadband and digital skills.
As expected, AI received a total sum of £75m and electric car development earned £400m, but the star of the show was 5G and full fibre broadband which received a whopping £500m.
“For the first time in decades, Britain is genuinely at the forefront of this technological revolution. In universities, factory floors and businesses parkers,” Hammond said. “But we must invest to secure that bright future for Britain and win this Budget. That is what we intend to do.”
On paper, Hammond may have made somewhat of a good speech regarding record breaking budgeting, but it seemingly may not have been enough considering the reactions from the tech sector.
Cyber Security – or lack of it
Cyber security did not even get a look in. The absense of cyber security came as a shock to many, especially in the wake of catastrophes such as WannaCry, Equifax and Uber.
Etienne Greef, CTO and Co-Founder at SecureData, said: “Another Autumn Budget, and another year when the UK government neglects putting cyber-security as one of its utmost priorities for investment.
“We see talk of driverless cars, rail cards and digital skills, but no mention real mention of how the UK will defend against cyber-attack at a time when nation states are virtually attacking one another in a game of one-upmanship and, in some instances, unleashing cyber warfare.
“While the Budget announcement has given a nod to the importance of digital skills, it’s not nearly enough investment to secure a society that is increasingly online and increasingly vulnerable to attack. Is the investment in the right place? While Hammond has promised significant funding to secure ‘the UK’s position as a world leader in transformational technologies’ barely any of this is wholeheartedly reserved for cyber security.
“It’s time the UK government acknowledged this with more concerted efforts towards protecting British business and its citizens.”
Transforming Transport – Driverless, Electric Cars
Despite the speculation of high investment into driverless cars, Hammond made a point of putting electric vehicles in pole position ahead of autonomous vehicles..
Electric cars received a huge £400m investment, followed by £100m for plug in infrastructure and £40m in charging R&D. However, the lack of investment into driverless technology concerned many, with experts fearing that the UK may be left behind in the driverless race.
Andrew Joint, Commercial Technology Partner at Kemp Little, said: “Noting the stated figurers that the driverless car industry has the potential to be worth £28 billion to the UK and employ nearly 30,000 people, the investment in an ethical centre to deal with some of the wider issues raised by technologies such as driverless vehicles is a sensible but vital move by the government – although considering the value/impact of driverless vehicles (according to the Government’s own figures) this ‘R&D’ investment still seems low.
“The Government obviously see electrical cars as the ‘gateway’ car to driverless vehicles and we can all get used to seeing more charging points by our roads and electric car use following the announcement of a new £400m charging infrastructure fund, the investment of an extra £100 million in Plug-In-Car Grant, and £40 million in charging R&D.”.
Though electric cars are a step in the right direction for transport development, many were hoping for driverless technology to get the green light for budget boost. Instead Hammond made a snarky remark about Jeremy Clarkson’s venture in a driverless car, stating that although the future will be driverless, for now the focus needs to be on building electric vehicles.
Russell Goodenough, Client Managing Director, Transport Sector at Fujitsu said: “Driverless cars throw up serious questions, including how we ensure a safe environment for their operation, does road infrastructure need to be updated to accommodate increasingly sophisticated vehicles, who is liable for insurance claims, and how can we ensure autonomous cars are not vulnerable to hacking or cyber-attack.
“It is crucial that we begin to address these issues today. Driverless cars could boost UK productivity by enabling employees to work while commuting, as well as reducing accidents on the road and reducing the amount of land needed for parking. The government’s investment in the technology is to be welcomed, and it’s up to everyone in the transport sector to come together to agree exactly how this technology will work in the UK.”
Other experts are more cautious around the development of driverless technology, looking at the overall view rather than just the positives.
Brian Carmody, CTO of INFINIDAT, said: “With the UK government promising bold reforms to encourage a driverless car industry, the UK will need to think quickly about how it will be able to support such a rapid technological overhaul on the roads.
“If the target of 2021 is to be achieved, and for these vehicles to be safe and reliable, the infrastructure supporting the widespread usage of driverless cars will need to be made a priority.”
Driverless cars are definitely the future if the UK wants to remain at the forefront of the industry, but Hammond assured MPs that the UK would remain in this position with an ultra-boost into 5G technology.
Networking – 5G, Full Fibre
Full fibre broadband and 5G got a major share of the spoils from a £500m investment into various initiatives, in addition to a £160m investment into the research of 5G networking.
Announced prior to the Budget, the Digital Strategy outlined that the UK wants to roll out fully fledged broadband across the UK. This further investment boosts this aim and strives to achieve Matt Hancock’s vision of becoming a world leader in 5G networks.
Alastair Masson, Head of Telco Media at NTT Data, said: “If the UK is to compete in a post-Brexit environment, a continued investment in 5G is critical. In today’s Budget, the Chancellor promised to make the UK a hub of enterprise and innovation and his commitment of £500 million towards technology initiatives will go some way toward making this a reality.
“Not only will it drive productivity for businesses and consumers alike, 5G connectivity will enable driverless cars to become a reality on modern British roads and further transform the UK’s infrastructure with more consistent Wi-Fi speeds and mobile signal across all parts of the country.
“With Brexit looming, British businesses need every competitive advantage available. Delivering on connectivity is key. The Chancellor stated that he wants a new technology business to be founded every half an hour. This will only be possible with a focus on 5G and the UK’s network infrastructure.”
Teaching – Digital Skills & STEM
Hammond finally shed light among the area seemingly of growing interest of the technology sector, digital skills and STEM. The Chancellor explored not only exemplifying digital skills across the young generation but doing so by implementing ‘T-Levels’ across the academia.
“Computer Science is at the heart of this revolution,” he said. “We will ensure every secondary school pupil can study computing by tripling the number of teachers to 12,000. Meeting the challenge head on means giving people the confidence to embrace the skills to reap the rewards initiating 3 million apprenticeships and the start of T-Levels.”
Targeting the young generation was not the only area Hammond focused on, but instead honed in on existing workers to ensure they have the digital skills for tomorrow, today. Hammond pointed out that the first priority for him is to boost digital skills and boost the sector, with £30m in digital skills distance courses.
Such an investment demonstrated the commitment the Government holds to educating the nation around STEM skills whether they choose to follow the path in their careers or not.
George Brasher, MD UK&I, HP said: “The Chancellor’s initiatives to fund and support technology entrepreneurs are encouraging, while the focus on teaching computing and maths, and the development of digital skills is crucial.
“We shouldn’t fear technological progress, but to make it work for our businesses, our public services and ourselves, we have to know how to harness its potential. There is no sector, and no job role immune from the disruptive potential of digital technology. That’s a good thing – we have an opportunity to be faster, better, more flexible, more productive.
“And here Britain faces a challenge. A digital skills gap persists in the UK, and it’ll hold us back if we don’t continue to address it. Across all levels, educators in schools, colleges, universities and industry need to embrace change. These practical skills will be crucial in the future.”
Productivity has been a clear objective for the Chancellor within all of his announcements and speeches, making it transparent that the UK is lacking in productivity skills compared to other countries around Europe and the rest of the world.
Technology will help overcome this barrier, bringing in the likes of AI to work alongside employees and better the company productivity in the short and long term.
Guita Blake, SVP & Head of Europe, Mindtree: “Whether businesses like it or not, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics have increased the demand for tomorrow’s workers to understand these emerging technologies, and the investment in digital skills and T-levels from the ground-up are a welcome introduction.
“For the workforce of tomorrow to be primed and ready for the introduction of these new technologies, our businesses must seize the opportunities to continue Britain’s global digital success story. Britain can – and should – be at the forefront of this technological revolution, and London in particular must maintain its position as a European hub and beacon of future-facing innovation.”
Brexit still poses a huge barrier to various industries, including the technology sector, to which the government must improve the productivity and quality of the industry now before the country departs the EU.
Britain will need to use the new budget amounts wisely to reshape the UK into a digitally literate country to be the best of the best before Brexit hits.