What the Budget Means for Tech, Science, Booze and More

By James O Malley on at

What? Another Budget? Already?! Yep, for the third time in less than a year George Osborne has packed up his red briefcase and taken a trip to the dispatch box in the House of Commons to tell us how he’s spending our money – and how much more he needs. The news for the next few days will likely be dominated by politicians of all stripes arguing about growth, income and sugar (more on that later) – but here at Gizmodo UK, we’re more worried about the important things in life: science, technology, and booze. So what’s new?

Playing with Trains

If you like trains (who doesn’t?), the exciting news is that Osborne has said the government will be legislating to make both High Speed 3 and Crossrail 2 happen.

HS3 is a proposed line between Manchester and Leeds, which will apparently cut journey times down to 30 minutes from an hour currently. The route is yet to be finalised but it forms part of the chancellor’s oft-talked about “Northern Powerhouse” plan to boost the north of England by improving infrastructure and transport links.

Meanwhile down in London Osborne also announced that Crossrail 2 would be given the Parliamentary green light. This is a line that will provide a new north-south link on the tube to relieve pressure on the Victoria and Piccadilly lines, as well as bring tube connectivity previously ignored areas, such as Hackney and Chelsea. Though even if it is going to be built, it is still probably around two decades away.

Broadband and 5G

Off the back of recommendations by the National Infrastructure Commission, the government is also thinking ahead to 5G technology: it will be making 750MHz of spectrum available in bands under 10GHz by 2022 – 500MHz of this by 2020. In other words, it’ll probably be around 2021/2022 at the earliest when the first 5G services arrive – as the government needs to auction off the spectrum first.

Apparently in 2017, the government will announce a “5G strategy” to figure out how to make us a “world leader”. And intriguingly, the it says it will also support development of a “network planning tool” which will be tested in Bournemouth - so could the town be the first place to get 5G?

On conventional wired broadband, the government says it will start a “broadband investment fund” with the private sector; looking through the budget report, pretty much every region is promised some broadband cash, but with few specifics.

The government also wants to help us stop getting ripped off, as it will be looking at new proposals by the Advertising Standards Authority to stop the spread misleading broadband adverts, and is tasking telecoms regulator Ofcom with developing a new cost comparison measure for broadband services.

Science and Research

Good news on this front as Osborne has decided not to meddle with the existing government policy, and has kept the science budget protected in real terms (so accounting for inflation), meaning that science should get £6.9bn by 2021. (Though, as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn noted in his response, spending is still down by £1bn on pre-cuts 2010 levels).

What was new though was that funding will be going on loans for people studying doctorates, and it appears the government wants to make the UK a “centre” for driverless vehicles. This is probably why we heard about driverless lorries a few weeks ago.
If you go through the budget report, every region is to be given a “science and innovation audit”, whatever that means. But who cares? Science and innovation audits for everyone! Hmmm.

There will also be £30m put into nuclear research, especially in the north at places like the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (in Rotherham) and the Sir Henry Royce Institute (in Manchester).

Teaching kids to code

There doesn’t appear to be many details on this yet, but the report does say that the government intends to establish an Institute for Coding, and will be asking a panel of experts chaired by digital literacy entrepreneur Kathryn Parsons to help figure out how best to spend £20m on a coding competition.

Open and Big data

Say what you will about George Osborne – whether you think he’s a reptilian overlord, a detestable posho with a punchable face, or both, he is at least asking some of the right questions when it comes to digital matter, as reflected in a couple of interesting data announcements.

First off, he’s chucking £10m at a new “hub” for data science. The hope is that it will help the Office for National Statistics develop the datasets and algorithms to collect better data. Secondly, he wants to spend £15m on building a National Institute for Smart Data Innovation in Newcastle, that will bring together government, industry and universities to do make the most of “smart data”.

And thirdly in what will no doubt exciting news for coders, £5m will apparently be spent on building an open address database, meaning that entering your address online forms might be about to get a whole lot more reliable. The plan is to build an “authoritative address register that is open and freely available – making wider use of more precise address data and ensuring it is frequently updated will unlock opportunities for innovation”. That noise you can hear is Britain’s coders rubbing their hands at the possibilities.

The AirBnB Tax Relief

Good news! Your Etsy store selling steampunk My Little Pony models is no longer taxed! It appears that the government is recognising the changing shape of the economy, with the announcement of new tax reliefs for “micro-entrepreneurs” – people who sell small amounts of stuff, such as eBay sellers, and people who rent rooms on sites like AirBnB. From April 2017, there will be a new allowance of £1,000, meaning that if you rent a room but earn less than a grand, you won’t have to declare it.

Of course, while it may sound sensible, whether offering property owners yet another way to take more cash during a time when millions of people are unable to buy a home is a sensible thing to do, is a whole other discussion entirely.

Frozen Beer

And finally… what about the booze? There isn’t much to report here. Duty on beer and cider will remain frozen, but the duty on everything else will increase in line with inflation from Monday, so treat yourself to a bottle of wine this weekend. (Bad news if you smoke: you’re getting an above inflation price hike).

The real beverage news though is the story that will no doubt dominate the news for the next few days. Conservative champion of private enterprise George Osborne has suddenly got all paternalistic, and is worried about the children. And so he’s introducing a sugar tax on soft drinks, spurred on by the work of anti-sugar campaigner Jamie Oliver, which will come into force in a couple of years time. Though what’s curious is that (as noted by Guido), Bulmers Cider, which contains 20g of sugar per pint had its duty frozen.