Guest blog: Autumn Budget 2021 - The BJSS response
The highlight of the yearly calendar, National Cheese Toastie Day, was arguably overshadowed by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak’s autumn budget and spending review. This was in no small part due to the importance of this particular review; whereas in 2020 the focus was narrowed to one year in order to address the Covid-19 pandemic, this budget presented the government’s spending priorities for the next three years.
Following historically high levels of government borrowing yet a better-than-expected economic recovery, this was a high-spending budget with significant levels of investment in public services – a rise in overall spending totalling £150 billion across Whitehall departments during this Parliament.
We have gone through the spending review document and picked out some of the key tech themes, analysing what the government plans to spend on key departments and digital initiatives and the impact this might have.
VIRTUALLY EVERY GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENT HAS BEEN GIVEN MONEY FOR DIGITAL INNOVATION
Having gone over the fine print, we’re struck by the substantial financial commitments towards digital innovation: the Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC) has been given an additional £2.1 billion to support innovative use of technology (unsurprising given the importance of connected digital systems to government’s pandemic response); the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is getting £4.71 billion to drive high-tech innovation; the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) is receiving a £160 million investment to support the UK’s tech sector, particularly new industries; and some of the £2.4 billion settlement to the Law Officer’s Department is expected to cover investment into digital innovation by the CPS. Bear in mind that these are just some of the highlights from the Budget document – virtually every government department has been allocated money to support digital innovation initiatives.
CAN TECH ADDRESS SOME OF THE CHALLENGES OF POST-COVID RECOVERY?
While this is certainly a forward-looking Budget, one anticipating what a post-Covid world looks like, it was expected that the Treasury would need to fund efforts to deal with the ongoing fallout of the pandemic. To that end, the media had been pre-briefed that the NHS would receive an extra £5.9 billion to tackle the backlog of patients awaiting treatment and the spending review also confirms that the MoJ will get an extra £2.2 billion for courts, prisons, and probation services, including funding to clear the court's backlog.
They will be by no means the only government departments facing a backlog because of the pandemic. We expect that many public sector organisations will need to dedicate some of their settlements towards this issue. To make the best use of the funding, departments need to be innovative – it’s unlikely that they will be able to catch up by simply reverting to pre-Covid ways of working. Clever use of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Intelligent Automation could minimise manual work and free up staff to do more high-value tasks. In the NHS, for example, RPA could power self-service systems that allow patients to book vaccinations or reorganise appointments. And, of course, these tools could work alongside some of the approaches that we know have worked during Covid, such as video appointments, to ease the workloads of already stretched frontline staff.
If you want to understand more about this, we’d recommend reading techUK’s recommendations to support the adoption and scaling of Intelligent Automation in Central Government.
CYBER SECURITY ON BOTH A NATIONAL AND LOCAL LEVEL
Cyber security emerges as a major digital priority of this budget, with the government set to invest £2.6 billion into cyber and legacy IT over the next three years, including a £114 million increase in funding for the National Cyber Security Programme. Significant sums are being allocated to individual departments for purposes of cyber security: the HMRC is receiving £468 million to, among other things, increase its ability to defend against cyberattacks, and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) will get £100 million to support improvements to its cyber security infrastructure.
To read the full response from BJSS, click here- https://hubs.li/H0-T5ZR0