Transport, infrastructure, electric vehicles, R&D and future technologies all receive massive new investments in the UK government’s annual Autumn Statement that was presented to the House of Commons yesterday (November 23).
Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond revealed the state of the country’s economy and public finances, and announced the government’s future spending plans. The Chancellor said that investing in infrastructure and innovation was critical to improve long-term productivity and ensuring the UK’s economy was fit for the future. Hammond announced the creation of a £23bn (US$28.6bn) National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) that will provide major additional spending in areas that are key to boosting productivity: transport, digital communications, research and development (R&D) and housing. Hammond said his ambition is for the UK “to be a world leader in 5G” and so will invest £1bn (US$1.2bn) in the country’s digital infrastructure, including 100% business rates relief for five years on new fiber infrastructure.
The Chancellor highlighted that £2.6bn (US$3.2bn) would be spent to tackle congestion and ensure the UK’s transport networks were fit for the future. The spending plans include £390m (US$484m) on future transport technology, including driverless cars, renewable fuels and energy-efficient transport. That will include a £100m (US$124m) investment in the testing infrastructure for driverless cars, and £150m (US$186m) to provide at least 550 new electric and hydrogen buses, and reduce the emissions of 1,500 existing buses, and support taxis to become zero-emission. There will also be £80m (US$99m) to install more charging points for ultra-low-emission vehicles (ULEVs), with tax incentives for businesses to ‘electrify’ their fleets.
Hammond announced that £1.1bn (US$1.3bn) would be provided to reduce congestion and upgrade local roads and public transport, including £220m (US$273m) to tackle road safety and congestion on Highways England’s Strategic Road Network (SRN) of motorways and major trunk roads, with particular targeting of ‘pinch points’. A further £27m (US$33m) will develop an ‘expressway’ connecting Oxford and Cambridge. There would also be more money for the Northern Ireland Executive (£250m), the Welsh Government (£400m), and the Scottish Government (£800m), to fund infrastructure.
The government will also provide £2bn (US$2.4) more per year in R&D funding by 2020-21. This includes a major increase in R&D funding for universities and businesses, with projects to help the UK remain an attractive place for businesses to invest in innovative research. This will back scientific research and development of technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and industrial biotechnology.
The Chancellor also announced that fuel duty would be frozen in 2017 for the seventh successive year, and confirmed the government’s commitment to legislate next year to end the compensation culture surrounding whiplash claims, a major area of insurance fraud, saving drivers an average of £40 (US$50) on their annual premiums. The government will bring forward supporting legislation in the Justice Bill and expects insurers to pass on savings, which it says are worth a total of £1bn (US$1.2bn).