UK Budget 2021: boost for tech, R&D and innovation

Out-Law News | 04 Mar 2021 | 3:44 pm | 1 min. read

New measures to help UK businesses fund their growth, and develop their digital skills in the process, are welcome steps towards ensuring the UK remains globally competitive, a legal expert has said.

Simon Colvin of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, was commenting in light of UK chancellor Rishi Sunak's budget announcement on Wednesday.

Sunak confirmed that the UK government would provide £375 million in public funds to establish a new funding programme called 'Future Fund: Breakthrough', which is described by the Treasury as "a new direct co-investment product to support the scale-up of the most innovative, R&D-intensive businesses".

The scheme will be overseen by the British Business Bank which "will take equity in funding rounds of over £20 million led by private investors to ensure these companies can access the capital they need to grow and bring prosperity to communities across the UK", the Treasury said.

Sunak also announced two new initiatives to subsidise the cost of upskilling for businesses. The 'Help to Grow: Management' and 'Help to Grow: Digital' schemes will be operational by autumn 2021, though the chancellor has encouraged interested businesses to register now.

Help to Grow: Management "will help tens of thousands of small and medium sized businesses get world-class management training" from business schools across the UK, with 90% of the cost of the executive development programme to be paid by the government, Sunak said. In relation to Help to Grow: Digital, he said SMEs would be able to access "free expert training" to improve their digital skills as well as obtain "a 50% discount on new productivity-enhancing software, worth up to £5,000 each".

Colvin said: "SMEs have been firmly placed at the centre of the UK’s economic recovery and it is encouraging to see measures announced that will enable them to build to the next stage of maturity."

"The combination of the Future Fund Breakthrough scheme, implemented through the recently formed British Business Bank, and the newly announced 'Help to Grow: Management' and 'Help to Grow: Digital' initiatives should provide a powerful combination that assists SMEs in upskilling, productivity and growth. These measures, together with fast-tacking visa applications to attract highly skilled workers, are vital in counterbalancing the skills drain that we have seen, particularly in the tech sector, following Brexit, and I hope that they will foster the much needed innovation in tech and R&D to keep the UK competitive on the global stage," he said.