The Autumn Statement is now complete and as per yesterday’s article, the government appears well aware of the need for good broadband. It’s making announcements on funding for fibre to the home and also on the UK leading the world in 5G. It misses the point somewhat, that a lot of the infrastructure is in private rather than government hands; customers of Virgin’s mobile service, for example, will only recently have been granted access to 4G.
So, of the things within the government’s control, what pledges did the chancellor make and what were the reactions?
Innovation is a plus
Although not specifically a technology promise, the £23bn pledge from the National Productivity Investment Fund for innovation and infrastructure is a positive step. Louise Boland, Managing Director at Opus Energy, said this will work if it trickles down into business confidence. “We know from our own research that actually, 29 per cent of SME owners are more confident since the referendum,” she said – which sounds like a minority to us. “SMEs need to be mindful not follow the lead of their larger peers. Instead of wavering over business strategy, due to Brexit or Trump, they can crack on with business as usual – driving productivity – because they are agile enough to respond quickly to market demand.”
Stuart Veale, managing partner at venture and growth investor Beringea, concurred. “As [Hammond] said, more needs to be done to support the UK’s research, development and innovation sectors, to build on the UK’s strengths in these areas. It’s definitely a positive move that the Government wants to help British tech businesses.” He added that he awaited the detail with interest.
Oxford to Cambridge
Another facet of this innovation was the proposed corridor from Oxford to Cambridge allowing businesses in the areas to work with each other more easily. Boland welcomed it: “Operating in Oxfordshire, we know the benefits of working with the talent that resides in this area; driving innovation and excellence,” she said. “Linking these two powerhouses via Milton Keynes makes real business sense. It enables better connectivity and greater idea sharing.” It’s certainly a start, but there are other pockets of expertise.
Overall many of the businesses who’ve been in touch with New Statesman Tech gave welcomed the moves. “By taking this opportunity to prove its commitment to small technology businesses, the new administration is putting measures in place to take advantage of the ‘once-in-a-generation’ opportunity for Britain to cement its role as a leader in tech innovation,” said Matt Cliford, founder and CEO of Entrepreneur First. “A position further underlined with news of the further cuts in corporation tax and tax free personal allowance – moves that will not only encourage the thriving companies being created in the UK to stay here, creating jobs and wealth in the process, but one that can help them flourish by freeing up much-needed capital for innovation and growth.”
All of which must be taken in the context of a worse-than-expected financials, with £122bn of debt instead of the forecasts £100bn. Suggestions that smaller businesses will be more agile than their larger counterparts are right, but the adverse conditions they are dodging remain severe.