Autumn Statement 2016: a technology perspective

In the first major economic statement following the Brexit vote, Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered the Autumn Statement, confirming the state of the UK’s economy and the Government’s plans for spending over the course of the current Parliament.

Of course, not all of the Statement was news. In the week preceding the Statement, the Government’s intentions to invest £2 billion in research and development were announced by the Prime Minister at the CBI conference, creating much hype amongst both SMEs and large UK organisations. But Philip Hammond’s address also contained more positives for the technology sector including over £1 billion for full-fibre broadband and 5G trials.

Here’s an overview of the technology headlines:

5G gets a welcome boost

£1bn will be set aside to improve the UK’s connectivity. £400 million will create a new Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund which will enable the delivery of more full-fibre broadband. This will bring improved access, speed and security of broadband to areas of the UK where services are slow or non-existent.

A bonus announcement was that from April 2017, a 100% business rates relief for new full-fibre infrastructure for a 5 year period will be introduced to support the roll out to more homes and businesses.

To assist in the development of connectivity across the UK, significant funding will be put towards integrated fibre and 5G trials. Whilst 5G services are not expected to be commercially available until 2020 and there is yet to be an agreed standard, the Government’s promise to trial 5G and improve regional broadband services should help to accelerate advancements in this technology. With more telecommunications companies investing in their network infrastructure, there could be more jobs created within a range of disciplines including Solution Architects, Fibre Engineers, Software Test Engineers and Project Managers.

With Philip Hammond’s ambition for the UK to be a world leader in 5G, this investment will certainly help improve the UK’s position amongst countries such as South Korea, Japan and Sweden who currently have the fastest broadband speeds.

More money to innovate in robotics and AI

Universities and businesses will receive a huge increase in funding for research and development, with £2bn per year by 2020-21, according to the Government’s proposals. This additional funding – representing an increase of 20% on current R&D spend - will enable the UK to remain innovative in the fields of science and technology. The Government’s summary statement references robotics, artificial intelligence and industrial biotechnology as some of the areas which could benefit from the extra investment.

Investing now to create vehicles of the future

The pitfalls of public transport are constantly in the news – train services are unreliable, buses are slow and these transportation methods are simply creating too much pollution. With this in mind, the Government has proposed to invest millions of pounds in rail and automotive technology. In rail, the Government is setting aside £450m on trialling railway digital signalling technology to expand capacity and improve reliability. They also propose to invest £80m to accelerate the roll out of smart ticketing across stations in the UK’s major cities.

Separately £390 million is being invested in the infrastructure needed for driverless cars, the manufacture of new electric and hydrogen buses and charging points for ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs). Manufacturers will be looking for a mix of engineering and IT skills to deliver these exciting projects.

As ever, more detail is required before the industry can fully understand the impact of these proposals but at first glance, the funding set aside for research and development, broadband networks and transport seems like a positive step for the UK. If the Government continues to invest in innovation, there is a chance the UK can have the world class digital infrastructure that the Chancellor is striving for.

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