The UK IT sector has started to react to Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement on Wednesday, with most commentators expressing support for Number 11’s desire to increase support for technology in extra funding for broadband and a new £400m Venture Capital fund to support tech firms.
A key facet in his ideas is the National Productivity Investment Fund, set to invest £100 million for new UK autonomous vehicles testing infrastructure, a move Matthew Franey, chief executive officer of Foxtrot Papa, a branding specialist, says, “Providing additional funding for development of the infrastructure will allow us to develop better Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, [so] Britain now has a chance to position itself at the forefront of what is the biggest area of evolution that the car industry has undergone. We are witnessing an exponential growth in the need to communicate the benefits of autonomy and connectivity to consumers and it seems the Government is alive to this potential, and we encourage the additional funding that the Chancellor announced today.”
Many others pick up on the proposed £1bn extra support for broadband, with Alex Holt, Partner and Head of Technology, Media and Telecommunications at KPMG UK, noting, “The Chancellor’s announcement of a 100% business rates relief for five years on fibre is designed to change the investment economics for operators, so that new fibre investments are more attractive.
“Fibre and 5G will play a vital role in enabling productivity gains across all UK industries by driving emerging areas such as the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. The private sector will provide the vast bulk of the investment required to upgrade our mobile and fixed networks, but the economics don’t work quickly, or everywhere in the UK for that matter. The Government can and should continue to step-in, to fill the gaps and to further incentivise investment in strategic technologies like Fibre and 5G mobile networks if the UK to be a leader in ultrafast fixed and mobile communications.”
ISP Gigaclear agrees, with its Chief Executive, Matthew Hare, claiming, “Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement is a pro-business, pro-infrastructure, pro-fibre announcement. As a company delivering new fibre networks to rural England, this sets the tone for helping Gigaclear to accelerate the rollout of great fibre up and down the country. The relief on business rates for those building new fibre infrastructure from April is, of course, welcome.
“Broadband has become a ‘fourth utility’, vital for work, entertainment and staying connected. The £400 million investment will fund the extension of a futureproof fibre network ensuring more people have access to better, faster broadband.”
“The proposed investment could go a long way to tackling the digital divide that currently exists in the UK, as long as it is targeted in the right way,” thinks Aston University’s Chair of Optical Communications Professor Andrew Ellis.
Not all stakeholders are as yet convinced the broadband rollout will be that smooth. Philip Johnson, Director of Locate East Sussex, went so far as to say he was ‘concerned’ by the speech: “We welcome the Chancellor’s investment into transport and housing and very much hope East Sussex is a beneficiary of this additional funding. However, more support is urgently needed to help job creation within the new communities that are being developed.
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“It is important the investment to support 5G and broadband provision goes towards improving coverage and reducing ‘not spots’ in rural areas, as well as making networks faster. The increase in Rural Rate Relief to 100% is good news for a rural communities although it is not clear yet whether this will be extended to all types of businesses or just villages with only one shop such as a convenience store or a pub.”
From the venture capital community, Alex Macpherson, head of London-based VC fund Octopus Ventures, comes this perspective: “The key focuses of today’s Autumn Statement was to ensure the UK economy remains stable after the uncertainty of Brexit, whilst continuing to invest in the UK economy’s manifest strengths and perpetuate its growth and success.
Finally from the SME perspective, UK200Group, which represent the interests of smaller accountancy and law firms, Liz Ward, Principal of specialist IP law firm Virtuoso Legal points out that, “The statement is of great interest to our technology clients as the government seems to understand that they have to actively assist in the generation of IP in order to grow the economy. So far, spending has been promised for universities and also to help technology companies to scale and grow.
“One of the biggest problems is that, whilst the UK generates lots of great start up and SME technology businesses, once they grow they tend to be snapped up by overseas investors. We need to support these companies and help the UK retain talent and ownership of businesses.”