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Chancellor Philip Hammond pledges more than £500m for tech in 2017 Budget

Autumn Budget promises major investment in tech to drive the UK post-Brexit, including money for artificial intelligence, driverless cars, a new national centre for computing and a geospatial data commission

Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Budget has pledged more than £500m for a series of digital, data and technology projects.

Presenting the government’s 2017 Budget, Hammond said the world is “on the brink of a technological revolution” and that the UK has to embrace the future “and build on Britain’s global success story”.

He said Britain needs to be at the forefront of this revolution, and that investment in infrastructure, skills and research and development (R&D) will help increase productivity to ensure a vibrant economy after the country leaves the European Union.

As reported by Computer Weekly earlier this week, this includes money for broadband, artificial intelligence (AI), 5G and driverless vehicles, which Hammond said he wants to see on the roads by 2021.

Plans include a scheme to enable organisations to explore ways of testing autonomous vehicle technology through digital simulation – a project the government described as “the most significant of its kind in Europe and will involve cutting-edge computer science”.   

Driverless vehicles will also be electric, and the government has promised to invest £400m in electric car charge points, plus £40m in charging technology R&D.

“Our future vehicles will be driverless, but they will be electric first and that is a change that needs to come as soon as possible for the planet,” said Hammond.

The Budget stated the aim of establishing the UK as a world leader in new technologies, and Hammond said he wants to increase the number of tech businesses in the country.

Tech City to Tech Nation

The government will also invest £21m over the next four years to expand Tech City’s reach, with the aim of it becoming “Tech Nation”, supporting regional tech companies and startups across the country. Hammond also announced a £1.7bn transforming cities fund to support devolution and local government.

“Today we invest over £500m in a range of initiatives from AI, to 5G and full-fibre broadband,” he said. “We support regulatory innovation with a new regulators’ pioneer fund, and a new geospatial data commission to develop a strategy for using the government’s location data to support economic growth.”

The £10m pioneer fund will help regulators to “develop innovative approaches aimed at getting new products and services to the market”, said Hammond, and £40m will be used to fund a geospatial data commission, which will be established by May 2018 and will work on “how to open up freely the Ordnance Survey MasterMap data to UK-based small businesses” to maximise the growth of the digital economy, according to the Budget book.

The Budget book also highlighted investment within government. HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) will be given a further £155m for technology, which is forecast to bring in an extra £2.3bn in tax revenue by allowing HMRC to “transform its approach to tackling the hidden economy through new technology” and increase its ability to tackle non-compliance among mid-size businesses and the rich.

Read more about the Budget

As reported by Computer Weekly earlier this week, the Budget also includes £100m to train 8,000 more computer science teachers and create a national centre for computing to “ensure the next generation is equipped with the skills they need to thrive in the modern world of work”.

The government will also create a retraining partnership involving the CBI, the TUC and government, which aims to give people “the skills they need throughout life to get a well-paid job, and equipping young people with the science, technology, engineering, and maths [Stem] skills to become innovators of the future”, the Budget book said.

Hammond said the first priority will be to boost digital skills and support the expansion of the construction sector. “And to make a start immediately, we will invest £30m in the development of digital skills distance learning courses, so people can learn wherever they are, and whenever they want,” he said.

Innovation and AI 

The government also intends to establish the world’s first national advisory body for AI – allocating £9m to a centre for data ethics and innovation, which it hopes will “ensure safe, ethical and ground-breaking innovation in AI and data-driven technologies”.

“This world-first advisory body will work with government, regulators and industry to lay the foundations for AI adoption, which estimates suggest could benefit households across the UK by up to £2,300 per year by 2030, and increase GDP by 10%,” the Budget book said.

The government is investing £75m to take forward the recommendations made by Wendy Hall and Jérôme Pesenti in their report on AI, Growing the artificial intelligence industry in the UKwhich said the AI sector could squander a historic lead unless government, industry and academia come together to give it cohesive support.

Other significant funding measures in the Budget include £160m from the National Productivity and Investment Fund for projects to develop next-generation 5G, including £10m to create facilities where 5G networks can be tested, and £5m for a trial to test 5G applications and deployment on roads.

Full-fibre broadband will also receive investment, with the government launching a £190m challenge fund that local areas can bid for to encourage faster roll-out of the technology.

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