Devolution and digital at the heart of Budget 2017

Measures to drive further devolution and boost tech were at the heart of Philip Hammond’s first Autumn Budget.

As well as announcing further devolution of powers to Greater Manchester, the chancellor confirmed the government’s commitment to a £1.7bn regional transport fund, to be shared between six regions with elected mayors and the rest open to competition in other areas.

Further announcements included:

  • £320m to be invested in former Redcar steelworks site
  • £30m to improve mobile and digital connectivity on TransPennine rail route.
  • £2bn for Scottish government, £1.2bn for Welsh government and £650m for Northern Ireland executive
  • Scottish police and fire services to get refunds on VAT from April 2018

The chancellor also announced £44bn of government support for housing to meet the target of building 300,000 new homes a year by the middle of the next decade. Councils were also given powers to charge 100% council tax premium on empty properties. Most importantly, Hammond promised to lift the Housing Revenue Account cap in areas of high housing demand.

Despite predictions to the contrary, there was no extra funding for adult social care, which will disappoint local authorities.

 

Boost for tech

Tech was arguably one of the biggest winner in the Budget, with the following measures announced:

  • Investment into the technologies of the future, including £500m to support AI, broadband and 5G
  • £540m to support the growth of electric cars, including more charging points
  • A further £2.3bn allocated for investment in research and development
  • £30m to develop digital skills distance learning courses

Commenting on the Budget speech by the Chancellor, techUK deputy CEO, Antony Walker, said: “This is definitely a fitness-boosting tech Budget but many will question if it’s enough to prepare the UK for the long uphill road ahead.

“It sets out a strong package of announcements for tech and innovation. Additional funding for 5G, AI, digital skills, retraining, connectivity on trains, high-value infrastructure and transforming cities sends the right signal about the ambition for the UK economy post-Brexit.

“While the Chancellor has identified the right priorities, the overall economic forecast and tight spending constraints means that the amount of funding available is small relative to the growth potential of the sector.”

Tech regulation was also mentioned – with commentators welcoming the £9m announcement of the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation and the £10m Regulators’ Pioneer Fund which builds on the sandbox approach by the FCA to support fleet of foot effective regulation.

The use of open data also received a boost. Walker said: “Open Data is food for innovation and steps to further the Government’s Open Data agenda will benefit industry and citizens alike. As data becomes openly available it is important that we also protect its quality and integrity. We therefore support a new Geospatial Data Commission, with funding of £80m, to look at these issues in the round.”

Finally, the chancellor announced a £100m package to expand teaching of computing in schools, boosting future skills.

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