Technology projects awaiting news of future long-term funding will need to wait until 2020
The Treasury’s planned three-year Spending Review has been delayed until next year, chancellor Sajid Javid has said, in an announcement that has long been expected in light of continuing uncertainty about how the UK will leave the EU.
The delay means a number of technology projects may face an extended ongoing uncertainty about the availability of future funding.
Plans for a three-year review this summer were announced by his predecessor Philip Hammond in March, but the lack of a Brexit deal has made it increasingly unlikely in recent months that the exercise will go ahead.
The Treasury will instead carry out a one-year spending round, which will be completed in September, Javid said.
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Delaying the full exercise would enable the government to focus on preparing for Brexit. He said a shorter review – which would set departmental budgets for 2020-21 – would “clear the ground ahead of Brexit while delivering on people’s priorities”.
Javid said the one-year budgets would set out funding for spending pledges Johnson has made since coming into office last month.
Hinting that departmental budgets are likely to be constrained, the Treasury announcement said the review would “ensure the government continues to keep borrowing under control and debt falling by meeting the existing fiscal rules”.
The last spending review took place in 2015 and brought with it a massive – and surprise – funding boost for the Government Digital Service, which saw its annual budget nigh-on doubled to more than £100m.
The upcoming review could have a similarly big impact on the future of a range of government technology programmes. It was revealed last week that two major digital tools that HM Revenue and Customs had intended to roll out across the personal tax system remain in limbo until a spending review has taken place.
Having both begun deployment in 2017, work on simple assessments and dynamic coding was paused 15 months ago as HMRC needed to redirect resources towards its Brexit-related duties. According to a recent written parliamentary answer from Lord Young of Cookham, both require a funding boost to support their wider deployment, and work will remain paused until the spending review makes clear whether enough sufficient money is available.