Chancellor Names Local Fibre Schemes In Spring Statement

Evil parliament (c) pisaphotography, Shutterstock 2014

Local full-fibre projects move forward, while Hammond also indicates the government may increase taxes on tech giants such as Google and Apple

Chancellor Phillip Hammond has named the first areas to receive funds totalling £95 million from the Autumn Budget’s £190m local full-fibre investment challenge.

In his Spring Statement, Hammond said the funds would go to build broadband infrastructure capable of gigabit speeds in Armagh City, Belfast, Blackpool, Cambridgeshire, Cardiff, Coventry, The Highlands, London, Manchester, Mid Sussex, North Yorkshire, Portsmouth, and Wolverhampton.

Hammond said the funds would go to projects that “seek to stimulate the market by making the deployment of gigabit-capable full fibre infrastructure more commercially viable”.

The projects include using hospitals and GP surgeries as “anchor tenants” to provide a full-fibre “hub” for nearby homes and businesses, upgrading schools, libraries and emergency response buildings to fibre connections, and creating ‘fibre spines ‘along major transport routes and public building networks.

5G trials

The allocation was called a “concrete step” by techUK, which represents British technology companies.

“The announcement of the first 50 percent of money allocated in the November Budget for the rollout of broadband shows ongoing commitment to concrete steps towards the delivery of improved digital infrastructure,” said Antony Walker, deputy chief executive of techUK.

Hammond also confirmed £25m in funding from the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) would be used for a series of 5G testbeds across the country. The trials are part of the government’s £1bn Digital Strategy.

In the 20-minute speech, Hammond said there would be a consultation on the issue of increasing taxes on major high-tech companies including Apple, Google and Facebook, following indications the EU is planning a similar move.

“Corporate tax rules respond to the modernisation of the economy and deliver appropriate results for digital businesses that generate value in a unique way,” he said.

Technical training

Hammond said the government would continue to support T-Levels, a 2016 scheme to provide technical qualifications, confirming this year’s £500m investment.

The government is to provide £50m to help employers provide T-Level work placements, while also spending £80m to make it cheaper for small businesses to take on apprentices under the Apprenticeship Levy programme.

Hammond confirmed he would give government departments funds to prepare for Brexit, providing £1.5bn for 2018-19.

He praised the tech sector as continuing to attract staff from around the world.

“Our tech sector is attracting skills and capital from the four corners of the Earth, with a new tech business being founded somewhere in the UK every hour,” Hammond said.

But consultancy KPMG said the government needs to do more to boost the UK’s tech economy in the face of figures showing many European IT staff may leave the country following exit from the European Union next year.

“If the government doesn’t do more to incentivise the UK’s digital economy then we will face a shortfall in our tech skilled workforce,” said Bernard Brown, vice chair at KPMG UK.

He cited a KPMG study that found 53 percent of the UK’s European IT workforce may leave the country after Brexit.

Brown advised the government to introduce new tax incentives and increase funding aimed at attracting inward investment from tech businesses of all sizes.

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