Budget 2017: Hammond targets UK productivity with tech investment

UK government seeks to boost tech against slumping growth

Driverless cars

As was widely reported this week, the government is bullish on driverless cars, seeking to allow fully autonomous vehicles to take to the road by 2021.

Professor Paul Newman, founder at UK autonomous vehicle software firm Oxbotica, told IT Pro earlier this week: "The removal of the supervisor in autonomous vehicles is the natural progression of this technology as it matures - and is after all the ultimate goal.

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"It's quite right and smart that policy makers have this in mind as they look ahead to spot accidental impediment and opportunities for catalysis - the UK government has a great track record of doing this."

Dan Ridsdale, analyst at Edison Investment Research, said: "Increased funding to aid investment in electric cars and AI innovation is welcome, but the education system and the availability of venture and scaling capital will be the key determinants of our ability to build a healthy innovation ecosystem."

Can the Budget 'beat' Brexit?

While Hammond was keen to claim this isn't a Brexit budget, industry experts were still wary of the uncertainty the UK's departure from the EU is creating.

TechUK's Walker said: "The reality for many UK tech businesses is that the Budget measures announced today will not make up for the uncertainty created by Brexit. To really be 'fit for the future', tech businesses need to know what that future holds.

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"Putting money aside for a hard Brexit is pragmatic, but does not deflect from the urgent need for progress in the Brexit negotiations, including securing a transition deal on which businesses can make future investment decisions. This may not be in the Chancellor's hands, but will determine whether the UK thrives or falters in the global, tech-led future, on the horizon."

Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates, pointed out that the chancellor committed the government to plugging any gaps in EU investment following Brexit, saying: "Whether it be in the form of the British Business Bank or another public body, this is a crucial and an undervalued pillar of UK startup success, and covering this investment will help offset the impact of Brexit on the sector."

Leon Deakin, partner at law firm Coffin Mew, said there's been no evidence yet that the UK is losing its allure to tech businesses, and called the chancellor's announcements "great news".

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Meanwhile Ian Bancroft, general manager at SecureWorks, questioned the lack of security announcements in the Budget, saying: "The emphasis in the Autumn Budget on the UK to lead a global technological revolution is promising.

"The UK, as Hammond states, is in a commanding position as a leader in technologies such as AI and driverless cars, however, in order to continue to be, we must get cybersecurity right, or risk being the guinea pig that got it wrong."

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