The Government has announced funding for robotics, driverless cars and the next-generation 5G mobile network in its final spring Budget.

Chancellor Philip Hammond outlined how more than £500 million would be allocated from the National Productivity Investment Fund, which was announced in last year’s Autumn Statement.

A total of £270m will be spent seeking to make the UK a world leader in disruptive technologies such as robotics, biotech and driverless vehicles, while there is £200m backing for local projects to leverage private sector investment in 'full-fibre' broadband networks.

The fund will provide £16m to build a new 5G mobile hub at research institutions, while further investment will back 1,000 new PhD and fellowship positions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

Reaction was mixed, with some welcoming the investment and others saying it stopped short of what was needed.

In comparison, the US Department of Transportation last year said it plans to invest (£3.3 billion) in self-driving cars alone over 10 years.

There was also confusion about whether Hammond was referring to self-driving cars or electric vehicles. Both have been popularised by the emergence of Tesla in recent times.

Nick Black, CEO of mobile application and solutions developer Apadmi, said of the Budget announcements: “For technology businesses in the UK, the Budget’s commitment to fuel growth and support talent development is going to be greatly received.

“The £500 million investment to boost technology and innovation will go a long way towards helping the UK compete with the rest of the world as we prepare to leave the European Union.

“Given the current skills crisis taking hold of the sector, it’s more vital than ever that we invest in the talent we currently have available, but that we are also able to bring new jobs to the UK and attract foreign investment.”

Jodi Birkett, TMT Partner at Deloitte in the North West, said:  “The rollout of 5G connectivity was one of this year's TMT Predictions from Deloitte and it is encouraging to see the Government taking tangible steps towards implementing this across the UK.

"If our tech industry is to really stamp its mark on the global stage fast connectivity is essential, and the £316m fund for fibre broadband and 5G is very positive news. 

"We have already seen the benefit of a strong support network in the region’s tech clusters and these two things combined will create a force to be reckoned with.”

LDeX Group CEO Rob Garbutt said: “We’re pleased that the Government recognises that removing connectivity barriers for businesses is absolutely necessary to tackle the productivity gap in the UK.

"In today’s digitally-focused economy, fast and reliable broadband isn’t just a benefit for organisations – it’s crucial.
 
“The government’s pledge to dedicate £316m to 'full fibre' broadband and 5G technology is an important step in providing businesses with the foundations they need to innovate and succeed.”

Fraser Bell, chief revenue officer of global network provider BSO, reflected: “The Chancellor’s private-sector incentives to invest in full fibre networks comes as welcome news, but more needs to be done to ensure UK businesses remain competitive in the global economy.

“It is easy to forget that without solid infrastructure and actual fibre cables underpinning this tech innovation, the ecosystem would collapse.

 “If UK business are to compete with tech leaders such as the US, Japan and Finland, further investment is needed in the digital infrastructure layer on which our modern world is built.”

The Chancellor also announced the introduction of ‘T-Levels’, qualifications for technical skills.

“The truth is that we languish near the bottom of the international league tables for technical education,” he said in his speech to the House of Commons.

“Our rigorous, well-recognised system of A-levels provides students with the qualifications to move into our world-class Higher Education system.

“But long ago, our competitors in Germany and the US realised that to compete in the fast moving global economy, you have to link skills to jobs.

“There is still a lingering doubt [in the UK] about the parity of esteem attaching to technical education pursued through the Further Education route.

“Today we end that doubt for good, with the introduction of T-Levels.

“Thanks to the work of Lord Sainsbury, Baroness Wolf and other experts in this field, we have a blueprint to follow.”

Subsequent Budgets will be held in the autumn.