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Trade association TechUK has announced a set of proposals in its Fast forward plan to the government ahead of this year’s Spring Budget, aimed at accelerating economic growth through technology.
The trade body believes the government has the opportunity to deliver “one of the most ambitious Budgets in recent memory”, which can be achieved by doing three things: investing £100m in digital adoption, creating a “high-risk, high-reward” research and development agency, and creating a new centre for artificial intelligence (AI) and climate change.
In its submission to chancellor Rishi Sunak, TechUK divides the proposals into pillars of accelerating UK growth, levelling up the country, and tackling the climate emergency.
Within acceleration, it argues that the digital adoption fund could help more than 100,000 UK businesses “get their first foot on the digital ladder towards greater productivity”.
According to TechUK, the UK tends to be in the middle of the league table compared to European countries in terms of digitisation in the private sector – while 42% of all UK enterprises buy cloud computing services, the figure is 65% in Finland, 57% in Sweden, and 56% in Denmark.
The relief fund proposed by TechUK would help companies make initial purchases of cloud services and enterprise software needed to improve their operations. The fund would allow for a 25% discount on these types of systems with varying rates and specific regions targeted.
Also in relation to driving productivity and matching the advancements seen in China and Israel, TechUK’s proposals include the creation of a digital business link of experienced programme managers to deliver digital upskilling advice to businesses across the country. TechUK estimates the cost of running a network of sufficiently experienced ICT project managers across 38 locations countrywide to be around £10m per year.
When it comes to levelling up the country, TechUK believes the Budget should prioritise the roll-out of broadband infrastructure across the UK and a roadmap to full fibre. The trade body also advises matching Scotland’s fibre rates exemption, with a suggestion to bring this to England until 2029 to support long-term investment.
TechUK called for “fundamental change” in the national approach to research and development (R&D) through the creation of a “high-risk, high-reward research agency”, the UK equivalent to the US’s ARPA, to attract international scientists and “support a step change in the way the UK does research and science”.
This organisation should be small and without physical headquarters and consist of a panel of experts from government and industry who would work together to identify and tackle challenges.
When it comes to AI and climate change, the trade body’s recommendations include the creation of new centre for AI and Climate Change at the COP26 conference in Glasgow, and supporting the roll-out of electric vehicles nationwide so that the UK can tackle the climate crisis and “secure a global comparative advantage in green tech”. TechUK also advised developing an energy route map for datacentres.
According to TechUK chief executive Julian David, technology can play a fundamental role in supporting the three key pillars relating to the country’s economic development.
“[The chancellor] must recognise tech has a fundamental role to play in solving all three of these [proposals], whether that be in addressing the UK’s deep-seated productivity problems, creating the infrastructure to enable the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or using powerful tools such as AI to decarbonise the economy and give the UK a global green tech comparative advantage,” David said.