It’s rare that I’m inclined to congratulate George Osborne, but recognition is due to the Chancellor for making his latest budget the most tech-friendly ever.
Every year, Computer Weekly is inundated with press releases before the Budget from various interest groups calling on the Chancellor to include this or that technology policy. Typically, the day after the Budget we then get the follow-up release chastising the Chancellor for failing to deliver on their hopeful wish-lists.
But this year, few could complain – the list of supportive announcements was long. Tech startups, science and technology research, internet of things, driverless cars, smart cities, skills, broadband, mobile networks – all received funding or government support of some form.
The government’s digital strategy even underpinned one of Osborne’s headline-grabbers – the abolition of tax returns, made possible by the planned introduction of personal online tax accounts and HM Revenue & Customs’ real-time information system for tax collection.
There is little doubt that whoever wins the election in May, digital and technology will play a bigger role in the next government than ever before.
Labour must be a little frustrated – since the party’s digital government review was released last year, the coalition has slowly nicked most of Labour’s most popular recommendations. Osborne added another – extending the remit of the Government Digital Service (GDS) to help local authorities with their digital plans (although the Cabinet Office was unable to offer any further details on this, which makes you wonder how much they knew about it beforehand).
Some of the announcements promise to be truly transformational – not least a commitment to produce a standard banking API to open up the big retail banks’ data and systems to new entrants.
We are, slowly, getting the UK onto a digital roll. Whoever wins the election must commit early to protecting, continuing, and preferably accelerating this momentum. The UK has a genuine opportunity to be a world leader in the digital economy, for the betterment of everyone – creating jobs, wealth and social opportunity; improving healthcare and education; making this country a base for science and technology innovation that is the envy of the world.
We look forward to whichever party or coalition of parties is willing to accept and deliver on this defining challenge for the next Parliament.