Following the announcement of the Spring Budget 2017, Philip Hammond delivers his first budget of the year with key points relating to the current state of the economy, technology budget, plans to raise more money for the self-employed and more.
CBR lists five of the main budget commitments made by the chancellor with the views of various business people relating to the announcements.
As the first of many technology announcements, Chancellor Philip Hammond made a spending commitment to invest £200m in support of local “full fibre” broadband network projects that are designed to bring in further private sector investment.
This is for improved UK broadband, with plans to implement fibre broadband in every part of the country.
Read more: AI, 5G & digital skills top agenda, but new Digital Strategy comes up short for Britain after Brexit
Rufus Grig, Chief Technology and Strategy Officer, Maintel said: “High-speed internet has never been more vital in ensuring that British organisations perform to their full potential. Philip Hammond’s proposed investment in rural broadband is a huge step forward for all small businesses. However, it cannot stop there. More must be done to manage networking services for British companies if they are to compete on the global stage and drive our economy forward.”
Although as rightfully said, the decision is a step forward for small businesses in the UK, it is expected that the money is only more likely to be suited specifically for smaller businesses who currently struggle to raise funds themselves.
Marc Agnew, Vice President, ViaSat Europe said: “All investment in broadband should be welcomed. However, fibre alone, while offering hyper-fast speeds in the right circumstances, will never reach every household without being prohibitively expensive. British consumers already believe that the Government isn’t doing enough to meet future broadband needs; that they can’t access superfast broadband of any type; and that investment is disproportionately focused on London and the south-east.
“The UK is at serious risk of ending up with a two-tier internet; where those areas with fast services reap the benefits in terms of education, opportunity and investment, while those without broadband are left further behind. We all want the benefits of hyper-fast connections, but this mustn’t be achieved at the expense of the rest of the country.”
Secondly, Phil Hammond announced an investment of £16m to create a 5G hub to trial forthcoming mobile data technology, with close attention on the government’s plans to better mobile network coverage across UK roads and railway lines.
There is also expected to be more funding added for future trials.
Derek McManus, Chief Operating Officer, O2 said: “The Chancellor’s 5G strategy acknowledges that connectivity is critical to the success of post-Brexit Britain as we look to encourage investment, attract talent and grow our businesses. In fact, our own research tells us that an effective rollout of 5G connectivity will add over £7 billion a year to the economy by 2026.
“The 5G strategy sets out a clear plan which will help secure the UK’s status as a leading digital economy, but a competitive framework must be in place to ensure the 5G network is up to scratch. This is why we are calling on the telecoms industry regulator to restrict share of spectrum to 35 per cent. A competitive auction will allow the mobile industry to successfully evolve towards 5G, laying the foundation for a prosperous digital future for UK consumers and businesses.”
The government is to also work with Ofcom to ensure the UK is fit for 5G, all in expectation to develop the UK to become a world leader in the next wave of mobile technology and services.
Dr Li-Ke Huang, 5G Research & Technology, Cobham Wireless said: “The government’s plans to invest in 5G technology are vital in order for the UK to retain its position as a digital leader in Europe. It promises to deliver the quality of mobile internet experience that businesses and consumers are demanding, and will also open up opportunities for a truly connected society, powered by new applications such as machine-to-machine technology, connected cars and smart cities.
“5G can also help fix the various ‘not spots’ across the country, such as commuter rail lines and large parts of rural Britain, which are lacking sufficient connectivity and hindering the growth of the wider UK economy.”
What about robotics and AI?
Robotics & Artificial Intelligence
One of the biggest announcements made at the budget is Hammond’s commitment to invest £270m to put the UK at the forefront of disruptive technologies. This includes robotics, biotech and driverless vehicles.
It is believed that both Robotics and AI are set to be a driving force in increasing productivity, and also solving societal and environmental challenges.
Manfred Kube, Head of M2M Segment Marketing and Director Business Development, Gemalto said: “We welcome the UK government’s pledge to invest £500m in support of high-tech areas such as driverless vehicles, 5G and artificial intelligence. Over the next 10 years these technologies have the potential to drastically reshape how we live our lives, and in many cases entirely new infrastructure is needed to make sure their potential can be realised.
“However it’s critical that security remains at the forefront of these developments. Autonomous cars and smart city technologies are going to cause an explosion in data – making sure it remains in the right hands will be crucial in building trust among consumers.”
However some seem to disagree that these funds are at all beneficial:
Dan Ridsdale, Analyst, Edison Investment Research said: “The £270m for disruptive technologies is unlikely to go very far. The technologies highlighted – biotech, robotic systems and driverless cars are all very pertinent right now but others with lower profiles are just as deserving. This would spread the funds event thinner.”
Although, many see the chancellor’s announcements as evidence that the government recognise the value of the digital economy.
In relation to STEM subjects, the government plans to provide funds for 1000 new PhD and fellowship positions in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.
A total of £90m is to be delivered from the National Productivity Investment fund towards the PhD places and another £160m for the offering of fellowships positions.
George Brasher, MD UK&I, HP said: “The STEM worker shortfall is estimated to be at 40,000 each year in the UK and with more jobs being created to meet the shifting demands of the digital economy, this gap is widening. The UK’s digital sector is critical for growth, innovation and productivity.”
Adam Hale, CEO, Fairsail said: “£500m to spend on skills is a nice headline-grabbing figure, but it’s not nearly enough. Neither does it focus as much as needed on where we must radically improve skills – in IT. While maintenance loans are a step forward, we would really like to see more focus on the T in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths).”
Overall, many businesses agree with the government’s decision to strive for support STEM subjects.
James Smith, Managing Director Networkers, said: “We welcome the government’s £300m to support 1,000 new PhD places and fellowships in STEM subjects and the introduction of T-Levels. The skills gap in the technology sector is well documented, and the industry and government desperately need to address this to ensure UK businesses are fit for the future. In our recent Voice of the Workforce survey, 57% of tech professionals said they felt there is a skills shortage in their sector, so this will come as a welcome relief to the companies we work with.”
In plans to show the importance of digital skills, it was emphasized that the entire digital sector has a responsibility to develop both the current and future generation of the skills needed to drive the UK’s digital economy.
Andrew Lawson, Senior Vice President, EMEA, Salesforce said: “The most recent Global Innovation Index ranks Great Britain as the third most innovative country in the world – an achievement we should all be very proud of. It would be easy to think that we’re already well positioned to benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
However, within the ranking we scored considerably lower when it came to skills and education. We might have some of the best universities in the world for research and the most innovative creative industries, but that doesn’t mean the average Briton has solid digital skills.
Charles Senabulya, vice president, SAS UK & Ireland said: “The Chancellor has made it very clear with today’s Budget that education, infrastructure and industry are the foundations on which UK economic growth will be built as we head towards 2020.
“To boost regional development and productivity, investment in skills and training is essential. With many businesses crying out for qualified staff, addressing the UK’s well-documented skills gap remains one of the largest obstacles to overcome. We must do more to support the national workforce in unlocking its own potential. What’s more, we need to give young people a chance by investing in their future.”