Tech investment revealed at Spring Statement

Written by Peter Walker
13/03/19

The chancellor has announced several new policy and investment commitments in the technology sector in his Spring Statement.

Despite being overshadowed by yesterday evening’s unsuccessful Brexit deal vote, Philip Hammond addressed parliament today with spending support for cutting-edge science and tech to help “transform the economy, create highly skilled jobs and boost living standards across the UK”.

He announced £79 million funding for Archer 2, a new supercomputer in Edinburgh - five times faster than existing capabilities - whose processing power will contribute to discoveries in medicine, climate science and aerospace, and build on previous British breakthroughs including targeted treatments for arthritis and HIV.

Hammond also committed to funding the Joint European Torus programme in Oxfordshire as a wholly UK asset in the event the European Commission does not renew the contract, giving those experts working at the facility certainty to continue their ground-breaking fusion energy research.

The statement included the investment of £81 million in Extreme Photonics laser technology at the facility in Oxfordshire, along with a £45 million boost for the UK’s genomics industry with for Bioinformatics research in Cambridge.

Hammond welcomed the Furman review, an independent inquiry into competition in the digital economy, which has found that tech giants have become increasingly dominant.

The chancellor announced that the government will respond later in the year to the review’s calls to update competition rules for the digital age – to open the market up and increase choice and innovation for consumers.

Hammond has also written to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) asking it to carry out a market study of the digital advertising market as soon as is possible – in line with recommendations of the Furman Review.

Hammond also announced a £95 million investment into local full fibre network plans, with the aim of providing the fastest and most reliable broadband to more homes and businesses. The ultimate goal is to provide the whole of the UK with a full-fibre network by 2023.

Paolo Sartori, chief executive of TransWorldCom, noted: “Better connectivity across all of the UK will allow British businesses and therefore our economy to benefit and grow – as a country that thinks of itself as a thriving culture for developing businesses, a solid technological infrastructure is a basic need and right for any business no matter what the size.”

Commenting on the statement, Ritam Gandhi, director and founder at Studio Graphene, said: “Much of what the chancellor has announced today will be determined by the coming fortnight’s unfolding events; after all, renewed calls for a general election could derail Hammond’s plans.

“But for now, given Westminster’s fixation on Brexit over the last 12 months, it was at least positive to see a commitment to funding for innovation – digital industry is one of the most important parts of the UK economy and the government is right to do all it can to support innovation without restricting growth with excessive red tape.”

Nikolas Kairinos, chief executive of Fountech.ai, commented: “Hopefully, we should see the Government build upon these commitments over the coming 12 months, and they will hopefully take note of the findings of the digital competition report.

“Regardless of what shape or form Brexit might take, there’s no denying the importance of the tech industry as key driver of productivity and growth for the UK economy,” he continued, adding: “Hammond was right to provide a boost to the sector in today’s speech, and they must continue to offer support to ensure the country remains a digital powerhouse on the world stage.”