Autumn Statement tech round-up: Boost for fibre, 5G and venture capital
Much of the focus of Philip Hammond’s 2016 Autumn Statement was on infrastructure spending, with the Chancellor claiming that the UK’s “future transport, business and lifestyle needs will require world class digital infrastructure to underpin them”. This requires, according to the Chancellor, “a full-fibre network” which would facilitate a “step-change in speed, security and reliability”.
To that end, he announced £1 billion worth of funding designed to “catalyse” private investment in fibre networks and to support 5G trials. The statement also included the proposed introduction of 100% business rates relief for a five year period on new fibre infrastructure, designed to further support the roll-out of fibre to homes and businesses.
The Chancellor also praised “the strength of [of the UK’s] science and high-tech manufacturing base” and announced an extra £2 billion a year in funding by 2020 for research and development in science and technology innovation.
There was tentative support from within the technology sector for the proposals contained in the Autumn Statement, but some called for the government to do more. Charlotte Holloway, Policy Director at techUK, said, “A Match-fit Britain must be a Tech-fit Britain, and today the Chancellor gives UK tech a series of welcome announcements”, pointing to investments in R&D as particularly welcome. However, she also cautioned that “there was a real gap when it came to additional support for boosting the UK’s digital skills” and “a missed opportunity to ensure that the benefits of digital are at the heart of the Government’s devolution ambitions”.
There was also an additional £400 million set aside for venture capital funds through the British Business Bank, unlocking £1 billion worth of funding for growing firms. The funds were designed, according to the Chancellor, to assist the fastest-growing technology firms to scale and prevent them from being bought by larger firms. The BVCA welcomed the news, with Tim Hames Director General of the British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association, stating that he was “pleased” with the new fund.
The Chancellor also announced £110 million worth of funding for the proposed Oxford-Cambridge Expressway, as part of the National Infrastructure Commission’s proposals for a growth corridor between the two cities. The expressway is not just a transport link but, he hoped, would help create a “transformational tech-corridor, drawing on the world-class research strengths of our two best-known universities”.