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Phillip Hammond issues rallying call 'to commercialise innovation' in the UK

Tom Macaulay | March 23, 2017
The chancellor called for "innovation-friendly regulation" at the launch of a Fourth Industrial Revolution parliamentary group.

Up to 15 million of current jobs in the UK could eventually be automated over time, Bank of England chief Mark Carney estimated in a speech last December, but Mr Hammond was unconcerned about the risks of automation.

He referred to the example of the proportion of the US involved in agriculture, which fell from 41 percent in 1900 to two percent in 2000 over a period in which agricultural output rose dramatically, without marking a long-term increase in US unemployment rates. He also recalled his concerns for the future of the shorthand typists in his office when the transformative potential of personal computers first became clear.

"The shorthand typists have gone, but I don't see people sitting around idle," he said. "As one area of human activity is rendered redundant, other areas are created, and the kind of technological revolution we're on the brink of will create as many jobs as it destroys."

A predicted 65 percent of children entering primary school today will work in jobs that don't yet exist, a challenge Hammond wants by supporting skill sets for the future.

"Investing in our technical education roots, an area where the UK has lagged behind for many years arguably since the First World War is the clearest possible commitment that we could make to this agenda.

"We will now proceed to test with a £40 million package of pilot schemes, lifetime learning approaches to see what works best and how we can ensure that the next generation are able to continuously learn throughout their working lives."

He reiterated his concern about Britain's productivity expressed in his autumn statement speech. The country currently produces 30 percent less in total than the US and Germany do in the same period of time. The £23 billion national productivity investment fund created in the autumn statement last year and an additional £2 billion public investment in R&D by 2020 are his principal attempts to improve this.

He said his plans to further cut corporation tax to 17 percent and make the R&D tax credit regime more easily accessible would support this, and that business-friendly regulation would also play a crucial role.

"We want to have a regulatory environment which is resolutely, aggressively even, pro-innovation," he said. "It's no good developing driverless vehicles if no one will let you test them on the road [...] we are going out of our way to make sure that all our key regulators have as a part of their core remit, the fostering of innovation.

"What is really exciting is for the first time in my 60 years the UK is really well positioned to ride this revolution from its head, rather than following it in its wake, and that means a huge new opportunity for the British people."

 

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