Tech companies have welcomed the focus on innovation and IT skills in yesterday’s Spring Budget, but called for the government to follow up its ambition with targeted actions.
Philip Hammond delivered his first – and last Spring Budget – yesterday in the Commons – Photo credit: PA
The Budget, delivered on 8 March by chancellor Philip Hammond, had a strong emphasis on the importance of innovation and investment in technology, with pledges for IT skills training and funding for R&D.
This included £16m for a National 5G Innovation Network to trial new 5G technologies, a £400m fund to stimulate private sector investment in full-fibre and cash for lifelong learning pilots, PhD studentships and robotics and driverless car research.
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Charlotte Holloway, policy director of TechUK, welcomed these commitments, saying that Hammond deserved “particular praise for his efforts to create a culture of retraining in the UK”.
She said he had taken a “consistent approach” that laid solid foundations “for what would be an uncertain period ahead”.
Chris Francis, director of government relations at SAP UK, said that the measure set out in both the Budget and the Digital Strategy, which was published last week, indicated that the government was “taking meaningful steps” towards tackling the productivity problem in the UK.
However, he added that it was “vital that companies of all shapes and sizes invest in digital tools to drive productivity and competiveness”. The government could do more to encourage this, he said, particularly in areas where industry and government interact, for instance through public procurement.
Siobhan Hafferty, the head of public sector at CenturyLink – who described it as a “tech-friendly budget” – called for more detail on how the government planned to use IT to drive digital transformation, and how it would securely manage the data it holds.
This idea was echoed by Paul Bradbury, executive director of business development at Civica, who said that the government needed to look at its own technological abilities as part of the wider drive for innovation.
“As we are living in the age of information, public sector services need to ensure they don’t fall behind and make the most of the opportunities and data available to them,” Bradbury said.
“Organisations need to ensure that smart data and knowledge management is in place. An essential element of this will be innovating and making the transition to digital services. To do this, we not only need to ensure that modern technology is in place but that the employees are fully clued up and equipped with the knowledge to utilise them.”
Meanwhile, Harry Armstrong, head of futures at innovation agency Nesta, said that the government should recognise that industry were “by no means the only ones using [disruptive] technology in innovative ways”, noting that some local councils were already using cutting-edge technologies.
Armstrong added that the government needed to consider the ethical and social implications of using disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics.
“Government must have a role in interrogating and influencing technological development and, in particular, fund meaningful evaluation – this is a precondition for understanding what works and growing informed public trust,” he said.