Reaction: Hunt’s AI budget pledges

The government has pledged to transform public services through productivity initiatives with AI at the heart if it.  Chancellor Jeremy Hunt pledged to “embrace the opportunities” presented such cutting-edge technology across the public sector.

As part of his Budget pledge, he said he would more than double the size of the AI incubator team, to ensure the government has in-house expertise of the most talented technology professionals in the country.

He also committed £34mn to expand the Public Service Fraud Authority by deploying AI across the public sector, and committed £17mn to accelerate DWP’s digital transformation, replacing paper-based processes with online services.

Additionally, the government will commit £14mn for public sector research and innovation of infrastructure, including funding to develop the “next generation” of health and security technologies.

Sarah-Jayne van Greune: action needed

Alex Adamopoulos CEO of Digital Consultancy Emergn said the “strategic investment” highlights the importance of AI in shaping the future, while also recognising the critical need for ensuring AI’s development and deployment are conducted safely and ethically.

“Successful AI implementation rests on reshaping operations for greater efficiency, innovation, and customer satisfaction. Getting this right can mean the difference between transforming a business or just jumping on the bandwagon,” he said.

Erin Nicholson, Global Head of Data Protection and Privacy at tech consultancy, Thoughtworks felt that the UK was “punching above its weight” in the AI rankings.

“Right now, it’s placed 4th internationally in the Global AI Index, thanks to a consistent high calibre pool of tech talent. To keep pace with this, the Spring Budget needed to include funding for Data and AI education,” she said.

“The Global AI Index shows the UK is lagging behind significantly when it comes to its AI ‘operating environment’. Essentially, the public’s opinion on artificial intelligence. The UK has work to do to educate the public on AI and its usage.

“That said, funding could have been allocated to add AI topics to the national curriculum to bridge the gap between understanding and awareness.”

Sarah-Jayne van Greune, COO at Payen & ILIXIUM said: “The levelling up investment is welcomed but we need to see this come to fruition. In the last budget, Jeremy Hunt promised an additional £500m investment in artificial intelligence to ensure the UK is an AI powerhouse. In addition, the government’s AI Whitepaper announced the allocation of £80 million to establish nine new AI research hubs.

“Yet, as Teck UK rightly pointed out, limited details have been published on where these hubs will be located. It’s also a shame that a large share of investment in locations in The North-East trailblazer deal was very focused on areas that are near London. Yet, places like Leeds, Manchester, Bristol and Glasgow also need an ongoing stream of investment.

It’s worrying that cybersecurity was not mentioned more in Hunt’s speech. AI can be a force for good, but in the wrong hands, it can be manipulated, and cyber-criminals are the first to do so

“UK industry has many tech and business pioneers spanning the country. And with access to the right funding, will be able to create solutions that will drive the governments long-term growth plan beyond expectation. If investment and support aren’t distributed equally, that goal may not be achievable as some of the brightest members of society won’t have the tools to bring their ideas to life. Ultimately, equality in investment will, in turn, ensure that the Chancellor can put the UK on the path to becoming the next Silicon Valley.”

Doug Baird, CEO of people advisory business New Street Consulting Group, noted the doubling of AI investment via the Alan Turing Institute. “In the long-term, this will benefit businesses right across the UK,” he said. “AI presents huge opportunities, and increased investment in research and development will help CEOs and leaders to imagine new possibilities for evolving their organisations and enhancing their competitiveness globally.

“However, to fully realise the opportunities of increased AI funding, businesses would benefit from a refreshed national AI strategy. The current strategy was produced in 2021 and last updated in 2022. Much has changed since then and businesses need a strategy that can keep pace with rapid advances in AI, as well as a strategy that effectively integrates skills and changing employment roles and requirements.

“CEOs and leaders need to have the confidence to embrace AI, and a national strategy must encourage this. Governance of new technologies is important, but is clouded in pessimism, which is counterproductive. We must approach AI with realism and optimism if we want to create long-term growth, improve productivity and develop a high-skill economy in the UK.”

Camellia Chan, CEO of Flexxon said the investment “further demonstrates the UK’s commitment to R&D and using tech to create a better future. That said, it’s worrying that cybersecurity was not mentioned more in Hunt’s speech. This is especially the case given the incredible rise of AI. AI can be a force for good, but in the wrong hands, it can be manipulated, and cyber-criminals are the first to do so.”

Matt Parker, CEO at Babble, said it was disappointing not to see Mr Hunt introduce increased tax breaks for businesses or allocate more funds to the technology industry.

Marc Warner: new era for AI

“This reform would have provided a much-needed boost to British businesses, particularly benefiting SMEs aiming to grow and expand in 2024.

“In an environment of ongoing economic challenges, an increase in funds would have been pivotal to those looking to develop and harness technology in the evolving business landscape.

“With this in mind, the first question is, did SMEs seize the opportunity of last year’s Autumn statement? And secondly, How will they navigate the lack of funding in this year’s Spring Budget?”

Marc Warner, CEO of Faculty said: “After years of stalling productivity and flatlining growth, backing our brilliant AI sector is one of the few levers the Chancellor can pull to help ensure the UK remains globally competitive.

The technology will play a huge part in improving public service delivery, as well as boosting workforce productivity – but it must only be used in a safe, connected and human-first way.

The AI era is here, and the Chancellor’s announcement today is another positive step along the Yellow Brick Road – a path to safely harnessing AI’s vast benefits whilst managing its risks.”


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In detail: Government site