Chancellor George Osborne has set out spending plans for the next four years, and science and tech are getting some extra funding — though not as much as many hoped.
Alongside changes to tax credits and cuts to Whitehall budgets, the annual spending review sees the government pledge to boost its own digital services, comms tools for police, and spending on fighting cybercrime.
In terms of IT, the government will be throwing £1.8bn at digital technology and transformation projects, of which £450m is being plugged into the Government Digital Service, with much of that dedicated to an online tax collection system.
Policing budgets will be held the same, but the government pledged to spend £1bn on 4G communications for police and emergency services, “allowing officers to take mobile fingerprints and electronic witness statements.” That will save £1m a day when fully operational, the government said. If true, it would scrape by with a return on investment at the end of four years.
Elsewhere, underused courts will be sold off to raise £700m for IT investment including video links, while border controls have been promised £130m “new technology” including e-gates and watch list intelligence tools. The NHS is also getting £1 billion over the next five years to “deliver better connected services for patients and ensure that doctors and nurses have the information they need at their fingertips”. However, that’s less than a fifth of the £5.6bn the Department of Health requested to upgrade its tech.
As part of that, the government pledged that 80 percent of clinicians would have digital access to patient data, with integrated care records by 2020 — a promise that may prove hard to keep given controversy around previous efforts at digital care records in the NHS.
The spending review also includes £5bn for health research, including £250m for the 100,000 Genomes project that aims to introduce whole genome sequencing to the NHS.
The science budget is being held the same with an inflationary increase, with £400m set aside for the “Northern Powerhouse investment fund,” designed to boost transport, arts and science in the north.
“In the modern world one of the best ways you can back business is by backing science,” Osborne said. “That’s why in the last parliament, I protected the resource budget for science in cash terms. In this parliament I’m protecting it in real terms so it rises to £4.7bn. That’s £500m more by the end of the decade.”
MPs earlier this month called for the government to spend more on science and R&D, and while the inflationary boost is more than the budget saw before, it still doesn’t put the UK on par with other OECD nations.
The government will also allocate 1.2 percent of the defence budget to science and technology, alongside spending boosts for cybersecurity announced previously.
The government will also fund agricultural tech centres in Shropshire, York, Bedfordshire and Edinburgh, as well as the new Royce Institute in Manchester, and is kicking £75m into the pot to “transform” the Cavendish laboratories in Cambridge, “ where Crick and Rutherford expanded our knowledge of the universe”, Osborne said.