Budget 2017: Broadband, AI & Training, but Where's Cybersecurity?

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Chancellor Philip Hammond has delivered his first Budget, promising investment in new technologies, new training schemes and better broadband infrastructure across Britain. While some of the announcements have been greeted positively, some cybersecurity experts have questioned a lack of investment in that space.

Hammond announced an investment of £270m in disruptive technologies that have “the potential to transform the UK economy.” These technologies include self-driving cars, biotech, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).

Aldso on the agenda was 5G. An investment of £16m will kick-start a 5G hub, which will include an Innovation Network that will test out 5G applications.

Hammond also announced improved funding for full broadband roll-out across the UK. A £200m fund will aim to encourage private investment in building a full fiber broadband network.

Funding was also announced to help train the next generation of technological skills that will be needed in the years to come. A total of £300m will be set aside to help fund 1000 new PhD places and fellowships in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, Hammond said.

The announcements received a mixed response from the technology industry.

Ben Boswell, UK and Ireland director of World Wide Technology, warned against hyping these kinds of technologies too much. “It’s fantastic to see this recognition that technologies such as robotics and AI are essential components of the UK’s economy. But since it’s such an exciting time in the market here, with this extra investment, there is an associated risk that certain technologies can become overhyped,” he argued.

“The problems that consumers and businesses are trying to solve must be at the heart of new technologies. We must ensure that heady days like this one, when the industry is enjoying the prospect of this investment, lead to outcomes which deliver real value for the country,” he added.

Chris Rosebert, head of data science & AI at recruitment firm Networkerswelcomed the investment as a way of keeping the UK at the forefront of technological innovation. “It’s good news that the government is going to invest in developing local skills and technology hubs for AI and robotics. Without doubt AI and robotics are providing the biggest technology leap that we have seen in a very long time and will affect every business and individual,” he said.

“The fight for skilled professionals is intense and tech hubs like Berlin and Barcelona are becoming increasingly attractive to UK-based candidates. Any steps the government can take to combat this can only be positive,” Rosebert added.

Dr Jamie Graves, CEO of ZoneFox, sounded a note of caution about the lack of details on how the investment will be spent.

“The Spring Budget made some good steps in terms of investment into the tech sector, but I still believe there is a lack of detail about how it will be spent. I also feel the commitments made today simply aren’t enough to ensure the UK remains on par with other tech hubs like Germany and the US,” Graves said.

“We also didn’t hear enough details on how the government is going to invest in cybersecurity, to ensure the UK is robustly protected against this modern threat. We need to have guarantees that the very latest in cybersecurity is developed here to ensure the country is safe-guarded at all times,” Graves added.

That concern about cybersecurity skills was echoed by others in the industry. Nigel Bolt, vice-president UK & Ireland of Intel Security, said: “It’s promising that the government is focusing on technology education – but cybersecurity needs to play a role in this. The truth is that cybersecurity has been typically undervalued as a skill in the UK. With that, the traditional education system is not preparing individuals for cybersecurity jobs and this plays a major part in the current skills shortage.”

It’s worth noting that while this Budget may have lacked specific information regarding cybersecurity, the Chancellor recently unveiled the National Cyber Security Strategy, underpinned by a £1.9bn investment. More recently, the Queen officially opened the UK National Cyber Security Centre.

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