Digitising the Natural History Museum and boosting HMRC IT – fourteen tech takeaways from the Budget

Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a range of funding and new programmes dedicated to digital, data and technology

Credit: Aaron Chown/PA Wire/PA Images

As it has done with most things of late, the coronavirus outbreak dominated the headlines in the wake of this week’s Budget.

The fiscal event – the first delivered by recently appointed chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured above) – outlined a total funding package of £12bn to help support the health service and mitigate the effects of the pandemic on businesses.

But, among the numerous measures to designed to limit the impact of the virus on public services and the economy, were a range of programmes and investment plans focused on boosting the country’s tech credentials. 

This includes the creation of new centres of education, as well as schemes targeted at improving the technology platforms available to both the public and private sector, and ensuring that businesses and government entities can make best use of digital and data.

Here’s 14 techtastic announcements contained within the 125 pages of the Treasury Red Book.

Spending review to focus on improving public sector tech
The government-wide comprehensive spending review (CSR) to take place between now and July will seek to identify ways in which the wider public sector can make better use of IT and data, and enshrine plans for doing so.

The budget said: “The CSR will set out plans to improve the use of data, science and technology across the public sector, and to ensure all programmes are supported by robust implementation and evaluation plans.”


Eight new institutes of technology
The budget revealed that the government is to dedicate £120m to support the creation of eight further institutes of technology. The institutes, the first 12 of which were opened in September, are collaborations between further-education colleges and potential public and private sector employers in need of the skills being taught. Among the partner organisations for the first dozen institutes are Huawei, the Met Office, Heathrow Airport, Microsoft, and Transport for London.


Reforming regulators
In a bid to help ensure UK Plc can “unlock the potential of emerging technologies”, the government is asking businesses and members of the public to submit suggestions for how the work of regulators could be reformed and made more innovative. Alongside which, the government will run a second round of the Regulators’ Pioneer Fund, in which £10m will be awarded to support innovation projects.

Money for anti-terror tech
The government is to commit more than £180m in new funding for national security and counter-terrorism measures. Some £67m of this will be given to the country’s intelligence community to “enable them to develop further their world-leading technological capabilities to protect the UK’s security and help keep the country safe”.


Digitising natural history
London’s Natural History Museum (pictured right), one of the UK’s most popular visitor attractions, is to receive £180m to support the opening of a Collections, Research and Digitisation Centre. 

“This new facility will be a world-leading centre for natural sciences research and international collaboration and will preserve this unique research collection for future generations,” the budget said. 

The centre will be based at the Harwell Science, Technology, and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.



‘High-potential technology’ given £900m boost
A major chunk of funding, which the government claims will add up to more than £900m, will be put into what the red book characterises as “high-potential technology”. This will include money committed in support of “commercialising” nuclear fusion, as well as supporting the space and electric vehicle sectors.

New unit for ‘making the most of knowledge assets’
The budget estimates that the public sector collectively possesses knowledge assets – such as technology, data, and intellectual property – worth £150bn. The government intends to establish a new unit to “scout for and develop” opportunities to tap into this value, as well as a fund to support such opportunities. 

Fintech review
The government has commissioned a review in the UK’s financial technology sector. The process will be led by Ron Kalifa who, in addition to being a non-executive director of the Bank of England, has spent most of a 40-year career in the banking and payments industries. 

“The review will identify what more industry and government can do to support growth and competitiveness, to ensure that the UK maintains its global leadership in this vital sector,” the budget said.

Digital hub for crime victims
The budget sets out government’s intention to put an extra £15m into improving how the criminal justice system treats victims of crime. Increasing support for rape victims will be a particularly important target for funding, according to the red book, while money will also be spent to “create a new digital hub to make the criminal justice process in England and Wales easier to understand”.


Tracking waste digitally 
The government is to create a national digital system for tracking the movements of waste. The creation of this platform will be funded by £7.2m in government cash.

‘New technology for HMRC’
The government wishes to help HM Revenue and Customs improve its compliance and debt-collection capabilities by “investing in additional compliance officers and new technology” for the department. The intention is that this will help the tax agency collect an additional £4.4bn in revenue by the 2024/25 year. Government is also to undertake an evaluation of the department’s rollout of Making Tax Digital for VAT and lessons learned from the process.




Rural areas get broadband boost
As had been widely expected, the government announced that £5bn will be committed to support “the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband in the most difficult to reach 20% of the country”. Much of this money will be dedicated to rural areas, with the ultimate aim of ensuring consistent connectivity levels across the UK.

Land registration continues digitisation
HM Land Registry is to receive £392m in funding to support the organisation in transitioning from its current status as a government trading fund to become a part of central government. Included in that funding is £42m to ensure the successful delivery of its “ongoing project to digitise land registration in England and Wales”. This, the government said, will “enable further innovation in the property market and the wider UK economy”.

Digital services tax to go ahead
First announced in the 2018 budget, the digital services tax imposes a 2% levy on the UK revenues of major internet companies. The policy has proven controversial, but this year’s fiscal event confirmed that it will be introduced on 1 April as planned. The charge will be made annually, and the budget said that it will be phased out once an international agreement is reached.

“The government remains committed to developing a multilateral solution to the challenges digitalisation has created for the corporate tax system and will repeal the DST once an appropriate global solution is in place.”











Sam Trendall

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