In his autumn statement today chancellor
George Osborne claimed to be splashing out billions on tech initiatives.
Much of the focus was on improving online government services and technology within Whitehall, for example promising £1.3 billion for online tax accounts for all by 2020 (an announcement that was first made in March).
However there was also money to boost the UK’s cyber security capabilities, extra cash for NHS tech and funding to help digitise the criminal justice process, among others.
Here are some of the most significant tech and digital announcements we’ve identified.
Full reaction and commentary due to follow – get in touch with your thoughts!
1. More money for the Government Digital Service
Contrary to the warnings of those both in and outside Whitehall, the Government Digital Service's budget actually seems to have increased. Osborne promised an extra £450 million for the unit and confirmed it remains the '
digital, data and technology centre for government'.
HM Treasury documents do not explain if this is upfront, annual or over the next five years. However if over the next five years it is still a near doubling: from £58 million last year to £90 million each year until 2020.
2. You'll be able to pay online for every central government service by 2020
'By 2020 the government’s ambition is for citizens to have the option to pay online for every central government service', the autumn statement said. This is part of the cross-government 'GOV.UK Pay' platform currently being developed by GDS, which it hopes will provide one platform to let you pay for any government service online, such as passports or driving licences.
3. Set up an 'Institute for Coding' and digital skills college
Osborne pledged £20 million to run a competition to open a new 'Institute for Coding', which he says will help to develop 'the skills base to support the UK's future cyber security needs'. Information on where it will be based, precisely which skills it will teach or how many students it will train is yet to emerge. Osborne also promised funding to set up a 'National College for Digital Skills' in London.
4. £1.3 billion to build online tax accounts for all by 2017
The chancellor promised £1.8 billion to 'digitally transform' government services. It appears that most of that - £1.3 billion - will go to HM Revenue & Customs to pay for pre-existing plans to allow businesses and individuals access to their own 'digital tax accounts' by 2017.
5. £1 billion for NHS tech
The chancellor promised to invest £1 billion in new technology for the NHS over the next five years 'to deliver better connected services for patients and ensure that doctors and nurses have the information they need at their fingertips'. This will help pay to expand the Healthcare Innovation Test Bed scheme to every region: an initiative which allows the NHS bodies to try out new technology in small-scale pilots.
6. Funding for agricultural tech centres
Osborne said he would provide £50 million for two new agricultural technology centres, headquartered in York, to help boost the UK's share of the £250 billion global agri-tech market. He also promised £18 million to set up an
Excellence in Precision Agriculture Innovation Centre 'partly headquartered' in Shropshire.
7. A new 'National Cyber Centre' that reports to GCHQ
© Cyber Security Challenge
The chancellor said he would create a new 'National Cyber Centre', reporting to GCHQ's director, to help boost 'cutting edge' offensive cyber capabilities and
act as a single source of advice and support on online security. The pledge was part of £1.9 billion pledged by the chancellor to boost the UK's online defences, which will go on this and various other security initiatives such as the Institute for Coding.
8. A 4G comms network for the emergency services
© Cumbria Constabulary
The government promised to invest about £1 billion setting up a 4G communications network for the emergency services. It is as yet unclear what it means for the existing (and troubled) emergency services mobile communications programme. Only one company (EE) is currently bidding for one of the two lots for the contract, after O2 pulled out. The new network is scheduled to go live in 2017 and provide mobile, voice and data communication to police, fire and ambulance services.
9. Money to digitise the criminal justice system
Osborne promised a £700 million investment ' to modernise and fully digitise the courts, moving from a paper-based to an online system'. However, given the fragmented and complex picture at the moment this will by no means be easy to fulfill - indeed the government has already been working to digitise parts of the process for some years.
10. Scant mention of broadband...
The chancellor promised to 'explore setting up' a new broadband investment fund to help alternative network developers grow (presumably that means companies that aren't BT). Apart from that there were no new initiatives to improve internet connectivity, despite it being one of the biggest issues facing businesses in the UK.