What the 2021 Autumn Budget means for the UK tech sector

The 2021 Autumn Budget announcement today focused on the UK’s continued navigation out of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Chancellor Sunak stating that today’s budget doesn’t draw a line under the global crisis. But what will these economic measures mean for the UK tech sector going forward?

“This Autumn Budget is wholeheartedly on the side of the tech sector,” said Russ Shaw CBE, founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates.

“With the commitment to reskill the nation through a 42% increase in spending on skills and a formal criteria for the long-awaited Scale Up Visa, the Chancellor has announced a set of proposals that will support the breadth of our sector from startups right through to our unicorns.

“After thirty years in the industry, it is most welcome to see tech finally take its place at the top table of government policy. ​​This government should be commended for committing heavily to digital innovation as a route to economic recovery and job creation – although further investment in skills will be needed alongside numeracy programmes like ‘Multiply’ in the future for us to fully address the shortage of tech skills we currently face.

“Doubling Innovate UK’s annual budget to £1bn, launching the Global Talent Network and incentivising R&D domestic spending are eye-catching policies for the tech sector – although it is a real shame that the Chancellor has thrown cold water on the R&D proposal by delaying it for two years.”

Investment in skills

Chancellor Sunak’s announcement included investment of £3.8 billion towards post-16 skills, including provision for apprenticeships and T Levels, a recently introduced qualification equivalent to three A Levels.

T Level Investment

The T Level investment will come over three years to 2024-25, and will mainly be directed at funding additional classroom hours.

Developed in collaboration with employers, T Levels were launched in September 2020, with three initial subjects (design, surveying and planning for construction; digital production, design and development; and education and childcare).

A further seven subjects were due to begin in September 2021, with 24 subjects expected to be available by full roll-out in 2023.

Addressing tech competencies

While funding for skill development is vital in helping the UK tech sector to tackle the skills gap, Jamie Anderson, chief revenue officer of Xactly, believes that the majority of the announced investment needs to go specifically towards technology training.

“The pandemic upended industries that haven’t traditionally implemented high levels of digitisation and forced them to adopt digital technologies,” Anderson explained.

“The sales industry, for example, historically reliant on in-person relationships and social skills, now operates in a virtual world in which real-time analytics and intelligent data are crucial to achieve resilient and predictable revenue.

“Leaders will be looking for employees who are trained in tech tools, such as AI-powered platforms, to ensure flexibility and durability in the face of future disruption. With employers not hesitating to look abroad for remote talent, in order for UK industry to thrive the government’s measures to fix the skills gap must include significant investment into training for next-generation technologies and digital tools.”

Soft skills

Jon Cairns, vice-president of technical services at Nexthink, meanwhile, has identified the development soft skills in particular as a key target that the UK Government will need to consider.

“While there will be significant focus on upskilling workers in hard, technical skills, IT leaders are hoping there is sufficient investment in ‘softer’ competencies,” said Cairns.

“The shift to hybrid working over the last 18 months has highlighted the role IT issues play in employee burnout. Businesses must offer a proactive IT strategy to ensure optimum employee experience and retain workers amidst the Great Resignation.

“As IT teams move away from the ticket-based service desk model and towards a more pre-emptive approach to solving issues, they must increasingly have precise analysis, independent initiative and strong communication skills. With IT leaders needing these strengths alongside technical back-end expertise, the government’s upskilling strategy must focus on these skills to meet IT leaders and businesses’ recruitment requirements and solve the UK skills crisis.”

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Improving NHS technology

In the lead-up to today’s announcement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, £2.1 billion was earmarked for the improvement IT and digital technology for the NHS. While this will be seen as positive news for many working in healthcare, Dr Murray Ellender, co-founder and CEO of eConsult, believes that funding should be prioritised for digital triage, to give patient the most direct possible route to needed care.

Dr Ellender explained: “Our latest data tells us that nearly half of UK adults who visited the emergency room in the last 12 months did not require urgent A&E treatment. In fact, upon seeing a medical professional, 24% were told to visit another health professional, 13% of whom were sent to their GP and 11% who were sent to a pharmacist.

“By investing in triaging the needs of patients at the beginning of their healthcare journeys into General Practice A&E or Outpatients, we can get patients to the right clinician, at the right time, first time and every time. This will create a digital eco-system for patients, improving patient outcomes and driving efficiency throughout the system.

“Of course, cash injections like these may help with easing the immediate blow. But our healthcare system desperately requires a careful overhaul. Part of this means extra budget into assistive technologies intended to free up resources by empowering the clinician to focus on delivering more effective and efficient healthcare journeys for the patient, and to spot the early signs of potentially critical conditions, fast-tracking those patients to the right point of care.

“The pandemic has made it abundantly clear that the entire system is built on a flawed infrastructure of insufficient and disconnected triage. If we don’t invest in this widespread change now, we not only face a bleak winter, but we may witness the ultimate breaking point for our NHS.”

Addressing backlog and information concerns

Mike Kiersey, CTO of Boomi, added that with accuracy and responsiveness of data being paramount for health services, the investment in NHS technology announced in today’s Budget will help to address backlog and information concerns.

“The NHS runs on the efficiency of information, and on this information being accurate and up-to-date,” said Kiersey.

“If some of the data and technology infrastructures have been unable to keep up with the pace of change, then that is a serious concern, especially in the current circumstances where data needs to be constantly managed, integrated, secure and accessible to best serve the public.

“It is promising to see funding being directed to future proof IT systems but, ultimately, digital transformation is a delicate process, and one that needs to be carried out over a period of months and years. However, if the NHS can efficiently modernise their data practices in the coming months, it will be able to put a framework in place to become a digitally native system that can begin addressing the backlog of people waiting for crucial checks, tests and scans, and to help get waiting lists down.

“Overall, this will ensure digital systems in hospitals and mental health care settings are as robust, connected and efficient as possible – freeing up valuable NHS staff time.”

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Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.

Related Topics

Autumn Budget
UK Budget