Announced during a week of pivotal Brexit votes, it would be easy for this year’s Spring Statement from Phillip Hammond to be overlooked.
However, amidst atmosphere of uncertainty, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a number of commitments to furthering the British technology industry. But will they deliver?
The Spring Statement has been criticised for being light on substance, with many of the UK’s industries not in the speech. However, there were a number of positives for the tech sector.
The statement outlines plans for ensuring Britain remains at the “forefront of the technology revolution that is transforming our economy” despite Brexit uncertainty, and allocates £200m in funding for science and technology.
Nikolas Kairinos, CEO and Founder of Fountech.ai believes that this is an encouraging sign that the government recognises the importance of investing in the UK’s tech industry:
“The allocation of £200m to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of innovation and research will instill some confidence in the market and shows the Government has not forgotten about tech companies driving innovation. Secondly, the Chancellor reiterated his commitment to democratising the digital marketplace so that organisations of all sizes are able to compete on a level playing field, with the Digital Competition Expert Panel releasing the findings of its review today.”
The Spring Statement addressed the imminent problem of a shortage of high-skilled workers from the EU after Brexit. From this Autumn jobs that require a PhD will be completely exempt from the visa caps, making it easier for tech talent to settle in the UK. This follows an announcement last year of a new visa scheme to help the UK attract science, technology, engineering and Mmaths (STEM) professionals from abroad.
The government also committed an additional £7bn in funding to science and innovation, progress towards the target of total R&D spending reaching 2.4% of the economy.
£79m will also be invested in ARCHER2, a new supercomputer to be hosted at Edinburgh University that will be five times quicker than the UK’s current capabilities, indicating a commitment to cutting-edge technology.
GeoSpock’s CEO, Richard Baker believes that this investment is a positive one, and will have a significant impact on the environmental sector:
“Hammond’s promise of supercomputer funding is therefore pretty exciting and is likely to have a significant impact on the long-term reduction of climate change. Gathering and utilising huge volumes of data on climate change is beyond the scope of humans and, increasingly, many machines.
“Traffic information, industry and vehicle emissions, sanitation levels, geological, atmospheric and oceanographic records, temperature, geolocation insights on people, animals and things – all this data and more must be visible and analysed in real time.”
The Spring Statement also outlines a strategy for delivering a nationwide full fibre network by 2033 and £81m will be invested in a new Extreme Photonics Centre in Oxfordshire to develop new types of lasers.
Hammond addressed the issue of tech giants, after pressure for the UK government to curb their influence and require companies to pay their fair share of tax. Hammond said that he was asking the Competition and Markets Authority to undertake a market study of the digital advertising market while ensuring that “the UK will remain a great place to do digital business” while “competition policy works in consumers’ interests and where the public are protected from online harms”.
However, according to Baker, there was a distinct lack of concrete strategies for using technological solutions for issues related to climate change a lowering fossil fuel emissions:
“What’s needed is a long-term plan which focusses not on isolated strategies, but looks at the bigger picture and harnesses available resources to plan for a better future. This isn’t just a bunch of buzzwords. Other governments in other regions (Climate Smart Cities planning for Kolkata, energy-efficient Songdo in South Korea, Saudi Arabia’s futuristic Neom) have demonstrated how data can be collated and analysed to better inform the design and construction of smart, connected, low-impact, sustainable cities.”
“Positive to see a commitment to funding for innovation”
However, Ritam Gandhi, Director and Founder of Studio Graphene believes that the outcome of Brexit will determine how many of the plans laid out are implemented:
“Much of what the Chancellor has announced today will be determined by the coming fortnight’s unfolding events; after all, renewed calls for a general election could derail Hammond’s plans. But for now, given Westminster’s fixation on Brexit over the last 12 months, it was at least positive to see a commitment to funding for innovation, free from the tired and cumbersome semantics of the Brexit debate we have been hearing on a daily basis.
“The digital industry is one of the most important parts of the UK economy and the Government is right to do all it can to support innovation without restricting growth with excessive red tape.”