2017 Budget given welcome by UK tech sector

Measures include £3bn for ‘Brexit preparation’ – which turns out to be mostly for new Whitehall IT projects

Posted 23 November 2017 by

Yesterday’s 2017 Autumn Budget has been seen in a mostly positive way by the country’s IT sector, with stakeholders welcoming promises on moves including try to make the UK “a world leader” in new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), immersive technology, driverless cars, life sciences and FinTech.

Overall, more than £500m was promised for a series of national digital, data and technology projects covering areas like AI, 5G and full-fibre broadband.

Hidden in the paperwork was also a pledge to put £40m into a new geospatial data commission, to be established by May 2018 to work on “how to open up freely the Ordnance Survey MasterMap data to UK-based small businesses”.

And though it was not clear when Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his speech to the House of Commons at the time, there may also be interest in the fact that the stated sum of £3bn set aside to prepare for exiting the EU and ensuring a smooth transition seems mainly to be about procuring new IT systems for Ministries like Defra, judging by his remarks to ‘Today’ this morning.

For example, “It was incredibly positive to hear that the Government will be investing £20 million towards support businesses working in Artificial Intelligence with a further £9 million going towards the establishment of the AI advisory body,” commented Lal Hussain, Director of IT Applications at Insight UK, while “This was very much the budget for tech, start-ups, and scale ups,” in the view of James Kitching, Solicitor in the corporate team at law firm Coffin Mew.

That doesn’t mean every idea No 11 is putting forward is being uncritically accepted, of course. For example, Bernard Brown, vice chair at KPMG UK, noted last night that more needs to be done to attract inward investment for the UK digital and tech sector:

“With the UK preparing to leave the European Union, we desperately need to attract inward investment, from digital and tech businesses of all sizes, by introducing tax incentives and increasing investments in our tech clusters… If we are going to stay in the race for being front runners in cyber security, AI, automation, driverless vehicles and other new technologies, we really need to offer more to entrepreneurs and innovators to succeed.”

And perhaps Tom Williams, CEO at Certua Protect, speaks for many when he cautions that we’ll have to see how all these great ideas play out for real people:

“I welcome this investment into innovation in the tech start-up industry but strongly believe that we must judge ourselves on the end result of how it improves the lives of those who use it, [but] technology without implementation or relevance to the problem it seeks to fix, means nothing.”