Summer Budget Day 2015: The Tech, Science (and Booze) Changes You Need to Know

By James O Malley on at

So George Osborne has just delivered the first full-fat Conservative budget since 1996. After last year's budget, we wondered what it meant for the sorts of issues that Giz readers care about: science, technology and booze. Let's take a look at what this year's budget has in store for those same interests.

Unfortunately though, it is relatively slim-pickings. Osborne was apparently too busy punishing the poor and reducing inheritance tax on the rich to mention matters in our fields on interest during his speech. But looking at the full budget document, there's a few indications of what the government is planning on these topics.

Tech

Image credit: Haiwainet

Good news if you live the south west: The government is allocating £10m from next April to improve broadband speeds, promising to deliver speeds of 100mbps and above.

Nationally, the government is planning to invest £23m in 6 "Digital Economy Centres": London, Swansea, Newcastle, Nottingham, York and Bath. "These centres will exploit opportunities across sectors of the digital economy including the creative industries, finance, healthcare and education", apparently, and will also bring in regional councils, small businesses and local enterprise partnerships. It appears that London's "Digital Economy Centre" will be at University College London in a "UK Regions Digital Research Facility", and will get £4m from government, and £5.6m from other sources.

The details are vague, but apparently "further areas have been identified" where "Catapult Centres" could be useful; these are organisations that bring together businesses, scientists and engineers to help commercialise new technologies. Proposals will be made "shortly".

According to the Budget doc:

The government will provide seed funding to the Cabinet Office to work with departments in generating a series of innovative business cases to inform the Spending Review. The government’s aim is to deliver redesigned, user-friendly public services, fit for the digital age as well as delivering efficiencies across the public sector.

This appears to be in reference to the GOV.UK website and the Government Digital Service. It sounds as though the cash will be used to chivvy along the building of digital services to replace either services you have to send in paper forms for, or crappy existing digital services. For example, the DVLA has recently taken the driving licence system online allowing third-parties (such as car rental companies) to check your details digitally, rather than need to contact the department.

The government is also going to have to fiddle with a few laws to make them compatible with future online services, such as the inheritance tax rules.

And as if to demonstrate how little concrete tech there was in the budget (how about telling us about 5G, George?), the best we can do is perhaps that northern England will be getting an integrated train ticketing system like London's Oyster cards. That's technology, right?

Science

Image credit: Chester Chronicle

There doesn't appear to be much significantly new in the realm of science either. The government has reaffirmed its commitment to spending £6.9bn until 2012 on scientific infrastructure to "investigate the great challenges of today, whether domestic, international or in space" and it has promised to respond to a report by Professor Dame Ann Dowling on the UK's scientific research base in the Spending Review later in the year; that might give us more an indication on what the government wants to do for science.

The report also says that "the government can confirm significant industrial support for specific science investments, including £128 million in the UK Collaboration for Research in Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC), with its hub to be established in London".

There will also be a regional science audit, which will apparently identify what sort of science particular regions are best at. The government claims that it is "making good progress" to deliver a programme called "Health North", which later this year will bring together health experts and scientists to "provide better care for patients promoting innovation through analysis of data on the effectiveness of different drugs, treatments and health pathways".

And if you're a fan of pandering, George Osborne also confirmed the creation of "Regius Professorships" at a number of universities to celebrate the Queen's 90th birthday.

Booze

Image credit: Politics Home

Usually in a budget speech, the Chancellor will take the opportunity to slyly adjust the duty on alcohol, perhaps increasing tax on one type of booze and then guaranteeing a cheer by cutting the tax on another. But George Osborne today didn't mention alcohol once. He didn't even take part in the budget tradition whereby the Chancellor gets to sip an alcoholic drink while delivering the speech. Where as predecessors delivered the Budget with a G&T or a brandy, Osborne stuck to water. So nothing at all to report here.

Top image credit: Flickr/38 Degrees (edited)