The Chancellor’s ‘pro-technology’ spring statement has attracted mixed reactions from the UK’s tech community, with the speech being described by one entrepreneur as a ‘non-event’.
In his first spring statement to Parliament, Philip Hammond praised the UK’s ability to attract skills and capital “from the four corners of the earth” and said that a new tech business is being founded in the UK every hour.
He also announced the first allocation of high-speed broadband investment from the £190m challenge fund and confirmed the £25m investment for the first 5G testbeds, which was announced earlier this week.
The latter was welcomed by Claire Jolly, head of TMT at Deloitte in the North West.
“This can only be good news for innovative tech companies in the region as well as the wider business community since, depending on the outcome of these trials, this initiative is likely to evolve into a national 5G ecosystem,” she said.
“Harnessing the capabilities of next-generation technologies such as robotics, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and big data has wide-reaching benefits for every sector, and the introduction of the 5G testbeds marks an essential step in the movement towards the UK becoming a world-leader in digital innovation.”
The spring statement was also hailed as ‘enormously encouraging’ for the financial sector by Nigel Green, founder and CEO of deVere Group.
“Mr Hammond’s Spring Statement had a decidedly pro-technology tone and this is, I believe, enormously encouraging for the financial sector,” Green said.
“The sector is currently undergoing, possibly the most profound transformation in modern history, and much of this transformation is being driven by technology.”
“The FinTech era is well and truly underway and the Chancellor’s apparent support for the wider tech sector should be championed by all stakeholders, including consumers, existing businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups.”
However, the speech also garnered a lukewarm reception from a number of tech entrepreneurs.
Rohit Patni, CEO and co-founder of WeMa Life, said: “As a young business looking to scale up in the months and years ahead, it’s a shame to see little substance in today’s spring statement.
“Hammond may not want to rock the boat amidst on-going Brexit negotiations and financial uncertainty, but the UK’s huge collection of start-ups, who were rightly praised, will have hoped for new policies or initiatives that support their growth ambitions.”
Leon Ifayemi, CEO of student lettings app SPCE, said key issues affecting the start-up community were left unaddressed.
“The Chancellor has certainly followed through with his intentions to ensure there is only one significant fiscal statement made by the government each year, with today’s spring statement something of a non-event,” he said.
“Despite the usual praise offered to the country’s tech start-up community, the speech offered little to help entrepreneurs or small businesses, other than general reassurances that the state of the UK’s economy was improving slightly, that infrastructure projects were underway and that a business rates review would be brought forward by 12 months.
“Unfortunately, key issues facing start-ups and scale-ups – such as access to skilled workers in the short-term and trade opportunities post-Brexit – have been left unaddressed. Such uncertainty cannot be good for entrepreneurs’ optimism, nor SMEs’ efforts to develop plans for long-term growth.”
Dave Wells, European vice president and MD of Pegasystems, argues that, despite positive comments regarding the UK’s technology sector, the Chancellor can’t afford to rest on his laurels when it comes to the country’s digital transformation.
He said: “It has been an entire year since Hammond pledged £270m for disruptive technology within Great Britain. Whilst we have seen an increased focus on the importance of AI, industrial IoT and R&D, we still aren’t seeing this translate into digital transformation throughout industry and business.
“Today, the Chancellor seemed to neglect this important problem which is particularly worrying with Brexit at the back of everyone’s mind, and the associated risk it poses of a technology skills shortage in the country.
“Although it is positive to see well needed public sector investment, it is crucial that the government ensures some of this additional budget is used for improving digital processes throughout government. By investing in the digital transformation of the public sector now, it will help save money in the long run through more efficient constituent-focused processes.”