Autumn Statement: Technology and Innovation to spearhead UK productivity
by AprilSix Proof
With the Autumn Statement taking place earlier this week, we thought it was only fitting to provide a brief summary of what it means for our focus areas at AprilSix Proof. The jury is still out on how this budget rates economically, but what we can say is that it seeks to put the UK right at the heart of the digital revolution.
In an uncertain time for Britain, with the country’s growth reforecast recently cut sharply, the technology sector could be the phoenix rising from the ashes, and take centre stage in driving the UK economy forward. Good news for the sector, with the government laying out its commitment to innovation, and specifically artificial intelligence (AI), immersive technology, driverless cars, life sciences and FinTech.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond revealed aspirations of having one new tech business founded in the UK every half hour, cutting this from current rates of one hour.
It set the tone for Hammond to go on to make a raft of announcements designed to ensure the UK is at the forefront of the digital revolution with the news of more than £500m to support a range of initiatives from artificial intelligence (AI), to 5G and full fibre broadband.
The Chancellor balanced the desire to fire up the UK technology new business engine with a need to make provision for fuelling this in the future, focusing heavily on skills, pledging £30 million to go towards digital courses using AI.
Similarly, he made sure that the next generation of talent is proficient in key areas, ensuring that every secondary school child can study computer science, tripling the number of teachers in this area to 1,200. Meanwhile, on a more general level he announced a partnership with industry and trade unions to design a “national retraining scheme” to give people more science, technology and maths skills.
As with any industry making headway, the Chancellor felt the need to regulate the fast moving AI industry, setting up the world’s first national advisory body for artificial intelligence. The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation will set standards for the use and ethics of AI and data, designed to allow the UK to lead the world in developing practical uses for the technology.
Even though the national economic outlook has looked bleak at times this year, this budget has sent out a strong signal to the tech sector that it can spearhead a new wave of UK productivity and act as a shining light for economic progress for years to come.
Science, Engineering and Innovation:
With the Chancellor’s clear focus on the “technological revolution” this budget, there’s no real surprise that science and innovation fared well too.
The sector was treated to promising news earlier in the week, with the government announcing that public spending on research and development (R&D) would be given a £12.5 billion boost during 2021-22. Then, we were greeted on budget day with a confirmed additional £2.3 billion in investment for R&D, and an announcement that the government’s target is to increase public and private research investment from 1.68% of GDP to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.
– clearly a step in the right direction.
There are concerns that more direction will be needed to ensure this R&D investment is going towards a variety of projects. With the Royal Society of Chemistry questioning how the government plans to properly review this activity, but this is definitely a good place to start.
In addition to R&D, the Chancellor focused on investing in infrastructure across the UK, another crucial factor for fostering innovation.
He outlined £30 million for improving digital connectivity on the trans-Pennine route and ten times that, £300 million, going to ensure HS2 can accommodate the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Rail improvements. Not only providing opportunities for engineers, but better connections to drive innovation further.
Further investment is also going into areas like the Cambridge and Oxford corridor, aiding better connections between two universities known globally for their research.
With a budget driven by the advancements we’ve seen in AI and driverless cars, it is extremely exciting and encouraging to see the country continuing to invest in innovation and the next big thing. Only that way can we stay on top of the “fourth” industrial revolution and then be ready for the fifth one – whenever it comes.