Philip Hammond's 2018 spring statement in tech

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Image: Flickr Creative Commons/Agência Brasil Fotografias

The spring statement from Philip Hammond touched lightly on technology and the fourth industrial revolution

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The spring statement from Philip Hammond touched lightly on technology and the fourth industrial revolution.

Much of today's speech focused on the state of housing, borrowing, and public services and likewise did the response from Labour.

But Hammond did announce the first allocation of high-speed broadband investment from the £190 million challenge fund previously announced during the 2017 budget. He also mentioned £25 million for the first 5G testbeds, which was announced Monday

Hammond opened the statement by saying that Britain’s technology sector is "attracting skills and capital from the four corners of the earth" and said that a new technology business is opening once an hour in the UK. But concerns remain about how firms in the UK can continue to staff their businesses amidst the Brexit confusion. 

The chancellor added that from April 2018 £50 million will be available for employers to prepare for placements for the new T-Level technical qualifications.

He also said that the government will look at how tax can drive behavioural progress in tackling the plastics crisis, including exploring alternative, sustainable materials. Hammond committed to £20 million in funding from existing departmental budgets to businesses and universities to "stimulate new thinking" and "rapid solutions" via a call for evidence.

And for small businesses, the next revaluation for business rates will be brought forward from 2022 to 2021.

A call for evidence will open on how to encourage cashless and digital transactions "while ensuring cash remains available to those who need it," and will consult on a new VAT collection mechanism for online sales.

Opposition response

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell slammed the government's track record on productivity, citing figures that place Britain as "20-30 percent less productive" than other major economies. He added that investment was down in real terms at £18 billion below its 2010 level, and that in real terms the government had slashed R&D funding by £1 billion.

McDonnell agreed that Britain had to grasp the technological revolution "with both hands" though.

But in response to Hammond mentioning the fourth industrial revolution and the government’s industrial strategy, McDonnell added that Britain has the "lowest rate of industrial robot use in the OECD" and that the £75 million put into an AI programme is "less than a tenth" of what the US is spending.

And for the environment, McDonnell pointed to the Conservative party's slashing of solar subsidies, which "single-handedly destroyed the solar industry" in Britain, leading to 12,000 lost jobs.