The UK’s 2015 Budget has provided a platform for the UK government to reaffirm its commitment to the development of the digital economy. Chancellor George Osborne announced a number of measures affecting the digital and technology sectors in the Budget, and in this post we highlight the main ones relevant to the TMT sector.
- The UK Government plans to invest up to £600m to reallocate spectrum so as to open up the 700 MHz spectrum for further use in 4G networks, and to improve 4G coverage nationwide. The additional spectrum is likely to be auctioned during the next Parliament.
- There is a continuing drive to have 98% of UK premises connected to broadband with speeds of up to 100 Mbps.
- Government investment of £100m over five years in ‘intelligent mobility’, including driverless car technology, is planned which will be matched by the industry itself. The UK has been positioning itself as a pioneer of driverless car technology for some time, with £19m funding being announced for trials of the vehicles in Greenwich, Bristol, Milton Keynes and Coventry in February.
- An investment of £40m in research into the Internet of Things (“IoT“), which will provide a research incubator, demonstrator programmes to encourage new ideas, and research hubs. The research aims to focus in particular on IoT applications in health and smart cities.
- Following the Isle of Man, the UK will apply anti-money laundering regulations to digital currencies. The aim of this is to support innovation in this sector and to crack down on its use as a currency used for criminal purposes. Funding for research into both the risks and opportunities of digital currencies will also be increased by £10m.
This packet of announcements makes the 2015 Budget one of the most technology-friendly in recent years. The publication of the Blackett Review, Sir Michael Walport’s analysis of the financial services technology (“FinTech“) sector and recommendations for government policy through to 2025 was timed to coincide with the Budget, and it reinforces the impression that the UK has ambitions to be a significant player in respect of new technologies.
The Blackett Review has clear implications for the financial services sector, with emphasis placed on mobile payments, big data analytics and digital currencies, and furthermore it demonstrates a wider trend of the permeation of new technologies in other industries.
Overall, the UK Government appears keen to bolster the UK’s knowledge economy by investing in technology infrastructure and in supporting research in topical areas for the economy. If successful, the impact of these investments is likely to reach far beyond the technology sector.
The author is grateful to Paul Maynard for his substantial assistance in preparing this post.