The Autumn Statement came and went, but may mark something quite significant. Was this the first Budget or Autumn Statement in history to have a strong digital and technology theme? Has the UK government finally, and at last, woken up to the new digital age?
It was the occasion of the last ever Autumn Statement, and the chancellor Philip Hammond revealed a £23 billion National Productivity Investment Fund. The money to be spent on infrastructure and innovation.
Whatever time makes of the Autumn Statement, one thing was clear, it had a strong technology, and dare we say it, a strong entrepreneur focus.
In fact, Mr Hammond said the word ‘fibre’ four times, ‘digital’ three times, ‘5G’ twice, while the words ‘technology’ and ‘tech’, got seven mentions collectively. He even spoke the phrase ‘disruptive technologies, as well as ‘connected autonomous cars’.
Sadly, he neither uttered the word entrepreneur, nor scale-up, but give it time, this was Mr Hammond’s first attempt, afterall.
He did say that he was taking a first step to tackling “the longstanding problem of our fastest growing technology firms being snapped up by bigger companies, rather than growing to scale.”
So he is “injecting an additional £400m into venture capital funds through the British Business Bank, unlocking £1 billion of new finance for growing firms.”
And still on this theme, he said “I am funding Charlie Mayfield’s business-led initiative to boost management skills across British businesses . . . And I am launching a Treasury-led review of the barriers to accessing patient capital in the UK.”
It’s happening. We have a chancellor who recognises digital tech, even autonomous cars.
Give him ten out of ten for effort. Of course, Phillip lives at number eleven Downing Street, he will only earn 11 out ten when he says something along the lines of “This is a budget for entrepreneurs.”
It might be fun to takes bets on how long it will be before he says AI, or Internet of Things, or even augmented reality. And by the way, Barack Obama is still ahead of the game, he was recently the guest of honour at a big tech event in the US, where he talked about the dangers and opportunities of AI.
But what do the people on the – and forgive the use of the old technology metaphor – coal face think of it? That’s the entrepreneurs and digital tech leaders.
Paul Scarrott is worried about all those wasted seven seconds. You know when you are typing on the computer and th . . . i. ..s . . .
. . . happens. The computer decides to go slow. Mr Scarrott, EMEA Director, Nimble Storage, said the typical employee experiences an average of four software-caused delays per work day, with each of these lasting about seven seconds. So that’s 28 seconds worth of down-time a day – that may not sound so bad, but we all know how frustrating it can be and Mr Scarrott said: “The cost of this time to the British economy amounts to £744,235,520 (which is surprising) every year. He pointed out that meeting the digital challenge isn't just about the government. He said: "For those companies that increasingly rely on digital technologies, it is important that they look into their own infrastructure to reduce the time currently wasted by employees on software delays.”
William Newton, EMEA Director, WiredScore, focused on the fibre word that the chancellor used with such gay abandon. Mr Newton said: “There is certainly a long way to go before the UK becomes fully fibre – with many areas still not yet benefitting from the government’s previous ultrafast or even superfast targets. But this new investment is another clear example of the government’s essential investment in ensuring that the UK stays at the forefront of future-proofed digital industries.”
The UK has a productivity problem, as the chancellor pointed out. Among the G7, only Japan has lower productivity per head. But the combination of entrepreneurs and digital tech can fix this, let’s hope that Mr Hammond gets it, and he really does become the digital chancellor.