UK Spending Review 2020 - A round-up of the key tech and digital announcements

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez November 25, 2020 Audio mode
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak warns that the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have just begun, but did make room for a number of digital and tech announcements.

Image of Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak
(Image sourced via GOV.UK )

The British government today announced its 2020 Spending Review (SR20), outlining a number of key insights into how public funds will be spent over the next year from April 2021. The Spending Review this year is more high profile than ever, given the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the government's plans for economic recovery going forward. 

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak warned that government borrowing is, and will continue to be, at its highest peacetime levels over the coming years, stating that tough decisions had to be made on where to cut spending. During his speech in the House of Commons today, the Chancellor said: 

Today's Spending Review delivers on the priorities of the British people. Our health emergency is not yet over. And our economic emergency has only just begun. 

So our immediate priority is to protect people's lives and livelihoods.But today's Spending Review also delivers stronger public services.

Paying for new hospitals, better schools and safer streets. And it delivers a once-in-a-generation investment in infrastructure. Creating jobs, growing the economy, increasing pride in the places we call home.

Sunak didn't provide too much detail in his speech about how money will be allocated for digital, technology and data projects, but upon closer inspection of the official Spending Review documents, there are some key announcements that are worth highlighting. 

We at diginomica have gone through the information and have attempted to pull out the relevant announcements for this round-up. These include: 

  • SR20 outlines the government's ambition to modernise and reform the Civil Service and improve outcomes in public services, including: £33 million to enable to provide the public with better, more personalised public services; £32 million to develop a consistent way of signing into government services online; £30 million for the Infrastructure and Projects Authority to reform project delivery capability across government; £1.7 million to establish an evaluation taskforce to improve knowledge of what works

  • The Cabinet Office will get £4.1 million to create simpler and more flexible procurement rules, and £16 million seed funding for the Border and Protocol Delivery Group to develop a Single Trade Window.

  • SR20 will invest in clean energy technologies, aiming to build on the UK's strengths and venture into new industries. This includes £1 billion for a Carbon Capture and Storage Infrastructure Fund, and additional investment in low hydrogen carbon production, offshore wind, and nuclear power. The total package to support a "green industrial revolution" stands at £12 billion. 

  • Funds have been allocated to a defence modernisation programme, which includes £6.6 billion of R&D funding for areas such as artificial intelligence, future combat air power and other "battle-winning technologies".

  • £81 million of R&D funding will be provided between 2021-22 to launch a programme of investment in low and zero emission transport technologies. This includes new initiatives on sustainable aviation fuels, clean maritime demonstrations, zero emission freight trials, innovative electric vehicle charging solutions, and funding for a Hydrogen Transport Hub in the Tees Valley.

  • To support the UK's electric vehicle manufacturing industry, the government will spend nearly £500 million in the next four years for the development and mass-scale production of electric vehicle batteries and associated EV supply chain. 

  • £559 million to support the modernisation of technology across the health and care system

  • Data improvement - £9.6 million will be provided to a number of departments to carry out a pilot designed to improve the cross-departmental evidence base and use of data, with the aim of informing policy decisions and service delivery for children and young people. 

  • SR20 outlines £600 million to fix outdated government IT to ensure core systems are secure and can support better administration. This includes new funding of £268m in HMRC, £232 million in the Home Office, £40 million in the Ministry of Justice and £64 million in the Department for Education to bring technology up to date. The government hopes that these funds will reduce the risk of failures, improve efficiency and ultimately means a better service for the public.

  • The government wants to position the UK as a global leader in science and innovation and will invest £15 billion overall in R&D in 2021-22. 

  • SR20 also sees £375 million investment in the National Skills Fund in 2021-22, which will include: £138 million for the government's commitment to fund in-demand technical courses for adults, equivalent to A level, and to expand the employer-led boot camp training model; £127 million to continue support for people to build the skills they need to get into work, building on the summer Plan for Jobs, including funding for traineeships, sector-based work academy placements and the National Careers Service; £110 million, including £50 million of capital investment, to drive up higher technical provision in support of the future rollout of a Flexible Loan Entitlement to test and develop innovative models for local collaboration between skills providers and employers.

  • £50.7 million for business support programmes to improve SME productivity through leadership, management and technology adoption

  • £1.2 billion from 2021-22 to 2024-25 to support the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband across the UK. This is part of the government's £5 billion commitment to support gigabit-capable broadband rollout to the hardest to reach areas of the UK

  • £50 million next year, as part of a £250 million commitment to building a secure and resilient 5G network 

  • £45 million for programmes to drive growth through digital technologies and data, while improving online safety and security.

My take

It's too soon to know how significant these announcements are and what they will mean down the line, largely because we have been lacking in any effective digital or technology strategy from the top of government for years. That needs to be a priority in the coming months, in order to effectively tie this together. The use of technology during COVID-19 has proven why this is important and the government needs to learn from the experience to drive forward a more effective approach going forward.