Budget 2015: scant mention of tech

There was no mention of broadband or telecoms infrastructure during George Osborne’s budget today, but funding was announced for individual tech projects including smart ticketing in the North.

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Businesses, MPs and commentators have reacted with surprise at the lack of technology-related policies in chancellor George Osborne’s budget today.

Despite mounting concern about the UK's digital infrastructure, there was no mention of broadband or telecoms during Osborne’s speech, presenting the second budget this year after the Conservative party won an overall majority in May’s general election.

“Millions [are] still left isolated by delayed rollout”, Labour’s shadow culture, media and sport minister Chris Bryant MP tweeted, regarding the rollout of superfast broadband to 95 percent of homes by 2017, originally supposed to be 90 percent by May 2015.

“Very little tech, digital [or] startup focused in the Summer Budget”, startup trade body Coadec said. Rakesh Harji, UK MD of predictive analytics firm Blue Yonder, said the budget had overlooked the fact “we live in the digital era”.

“It was tumbleweed for technology start-ups in George Osborne’s budget today,” said Ed Relf, CEO of laundry service app Laundrapp.

“There should have been a pledge on the continuing rollout of mobile 4G connectivity which still only covers approximately 55% of the UK as well as substantial speed increases from the average of around 15 Mbps,” Relf added.

Julian David, CEO of IT industry trade body techUK, suggested the government had held back announcements on digital technology and its "fundamental role in driving economic success" for inclusion in its 'Productivity Plan', due to be published on Friday 10 July.  

The only notable mention of technology during Osborne’s speech was a promise to deliver “seamless oyster-style ticketing” across the north of England, led by a new statutory body ‘Transport for the North’, which received £30 million in extra funding.

Osborne also pledged to raise an extra £7.2 billion in extra tax by doing after fraud, offshore trusts and ‘hidden’ tax arrangements, although he did not refer to tech companies like Google and Amazon that are known to use these arrangements.

He promised to boost HMRC’s capacity to crack down on tax evasion and avoidance with a £750 million investment.

Regarding the much-discussed IT skills gap, Osborne said there will be three million new apprenticeships during this parliament, but again there was no specific mention of IT or digital skills .

He announced an unspecified “levy on large UK employers to increase the number of apprenticeship starts” with details due to follow in the spending review this autumn.

The chancellor did not go into detail regarding plans to slice £5 billion from Whitehall departments’ budgets, or the role IT will play, but promised to set out where the axe will fall during his spending review this autumn.

There was more detail within the official HM Treasury budget document, which promised to invest £23 million in six more digital economy catapults in London, Swansea, Newcastle, Nottingham, York and Bath.

There was a brief reference to digital government. The budget promised unspecified ‘seed funding’ to help departments create business cases for more user-friendly, digital public services, perhaps referring to cross-government plans for ‘Government as a Platform’.  

There was no follow-up to the Tory manifesto pledge for a third of government spending to go SMEs. The Cabinet Office is yet to confirm whether it will be made official policy.

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