philip hammond spring statement

Chancellor announces decarbonisation drive and £200m science funding

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Chancellor Philip Hammond has released details of his Spring Statement, including funding for science projects and initiatives designed to lower the UK’s carbon emissions.

With Brexit uncertainties currently dominating the political landscape, the statement has been relatively lowkey in comparison with previous years.

Nevertheless, the Chancellor has confirmed the expected £200m package of funding for science projects, which E&T detailed on Monday.

£79m of that package will go towards funding a powerful new supercomputer called Archer 2, to be housed at the University of Edinburgh. The computer will be five times faster than the current supercomputer generation and capable of carrying out 10 thousand trillion calculations per second. Addressing MPs, Hammond quipped: “I am told that with the right algorithms it might even be able to come up with a solution to the backstop.”

A series of measures designed to tackle the UK’s carbon emissions were also announced including efforts to help smaller businesses reduce their energy bills and carbon emissions. As part of that, a call for evidence is being launched on a business energy efficiency scheme to explore how it can support investment in energy efficiency measures.

The proportion of “green gas” in the grid will also be increased to promote decarbonisation of gas supplies and help to reduce dependence on burning natural gas in homes and businesses.

The Government’s Committee on Climate Change advisory panel recommended ending the connection of new homes to the gas grid by 2025 in a report last month, a proposal that has now become policy in the Statement.

Another call to evidence on whether travel providers should be required to offer “genuine carbon offsets” for their customers was announced allowing people to negate the pollutive effects of their journeys.

He also said the Government would respond later in the year to calls to update competition rules for the digital age and break the stranglehold of major tech firms like Google and Apple to broaden choice for consumers.

A £700m package of reforms to help small businesses take on more apprentices, announced in the Autumn Budget, will be brought forward to the start of the new financial year in April.

Lastly, changes will be made to visa regulations for researchers, PhD-level occupations will be exempt from the cap on high-skilled visas, and overseas research activity will count as continuous residence in the UK for the purpose of researchers applying for settlement (Indefinite Leave to Remain).

Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) executive director, Dr Sarah Main, said: “Changes to visa regulations announced today are great news for researchers across the country. CaSE has long called for changes to these rules that have, in the past, been tremendously damaging for individual researchers and research projects

“The movement on access to talent is welcome. But today’s Spring Statement did not make substantial progress towards the Government’s pledge to increase R&D investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027.

“CaSE has set outs its own model showing the growth in R&D investment required to reach this goal. We would encourage the Government to focus on this long-term plan to improve lives, creating better jobs and support the environment and to set out its strategy to achieve this.”

Studio Graphene founder Ritam Gandhi said: “As one of the few new policies that were pulled out of the red briefcase, there was some good news for the tech industry – namely, a commitment to make sure the UK is at the forefront of science and innovation through a substantial investment package. What’s more, the Chancellor has remained committed in ensuring the digital marketplace is not dominated by tech giants, offering a preliminary response to the findings announced today by the Digital Competition Expert Panel.”

GeoSpock CEO, Richard Baker said: “While it’s great to see something positive come out of the recent climate change strikes, Hammond shouldn’t receive praise for his mentions of climate change-tackling proposals in the Spring Statement – their inclusion should be a given. What I am pleased to see, though, is the promise of investment in vital new technologies which will help deliver on proposals.

“Hammond’s promise of supercomputer funding is therefore pretty exciting and is likely to have a significant impact on the long-term reduction of climate change. Gathering and utilising huge volumes of data on climate change is beyond the scope of humans and, increasingly, many machines.

Traffic information, industry and vehicle emissions, sanitation levels, geological, atmospheric and oceanographic records, temperature, geolocation insights on people, animals and things – all this data and more must be visible and analysed in real time. Only advanced computer systems are capable of this, and its only by continuing to invest in data-driven tech-focused approaches to climate change that we can really create a greener future.”

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