Autumn budget 2021: Rishi Sunak unveils new spending pledges including £5bn for health research and innovation and £3bn for skills education

Asia's Tech News Daily

The chancellor has announced a series of spending pledges ahead of the autumn budget this week, which include £5bn for health research and innovation and £3bn for education.

Rishi Sunak has promised to do “whatever it takes” to support families with the cost of living, as he pre-empts Wednesday's address in the House of Commons.

Among his promises are:

• £1.4bn to encourage foreign investment into UK businesses and attract overseas talent

• £700m to be spent mainly on the new post-Brexit borders and immigration system, as well as a new maritime patrol fleet

• £435m for victims services, crime prevention and the Crown Prosecution Service

• £560m for adult maths coaching to help increase numeracy

• a six-month extension to the COVID recovery loan scheme to June 2022

Writing in the Sun on Sunday ahead of an appearance on Sky's Trevor Phillips on Sunday, Mr Sunak said: “I know that families here at home are feeling the pinch of higher prices… we will continue to do whatever it takes, we will continue to have your backs – just like we did during the pandemic.”

However, he warned of potential pain, saying there would be “challenges” ahead to get public finances “back onto a strong footing”.

Luke Sibieta, a research fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said that much of the funding would only reverse cuts by previous Conservative-led governments.

“We've seen the government announce extra funding for adults to get A-level equivalent qualifications, which is funding that was already available up until about 10 years ago,” he said.

“So it's just bringing back what was there already to some extent.”

There are also calls from Labour for the chancellor to remove VAT from domestic energy bills from 5% to zero for six months in order to help families this winter.

The party said the cut could be funded by higher than expected VAT receipts this year.

And the Liberal Democrats want Mr Sunak to make funding to end the cladding crisis a major focus.

The Treasury said the £5bn for health-related research and development will be provided over the next three years, with investment rising to £2bn per year by 2024 – a 57% cash increase since before the pandemic.

A total of £95m of the funding will be aimed at increasing uptake of cutting-edge innovations in the NHS and addressing cancer, obesity and mental health.

A UK-wide trial of COVID-19 antiviral treatments will receive £33m, while £40m will be spent on research in social care reform, £30m on investing in research skills and training, and £20m on research in climate change and health.

Financial support will be given for genome sequencing technology that can detect over 200 conditions in newborns, compared with existing tests that can just identify nine – potentially saving 3,000 babies per year, according to the Treasury.

The £3bn “skills revolution” funding will be used for post-16 education and to help adults looking to upskill and retrain.

Some £1.6bn of the skills education funding will be used to provide extra classroom hours for up to 100,000 16 to 19-year-olds studying for T-levels – technical-based qualifications.

The Treasury will also create 24,000 traineeships and use £550m to quadruple the number of places on skills boot camps in areas such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and nuclear.

Existing colleges in England will receive £830m with extra funding for new equipment and facilities.

Apprenticeship funding will rise by £170m to £2.7bn in 2024-25, while free Level 3 courses – equivalent to A-levels – will be expanded in subjects like maths, chemistry, and biology.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the investment, but said the pledge is “sketchy” and “appears to be limited in scope”.

He said funding is also needed in schools, early years and for young people who do A-levels, BTECs and qualifications other than T-levels.

The £1.4bn business investment funding will hand out grants to encourage international companies to invest in the UK's critical industries, including life sciences and automotive.

This includes £354m to support investment in life sciences manufacturing, increasing resilience for future pandemics, and more than £800m for the production and supply chain of electric vehicles – including in the North East and Midlands.

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To help overseas recruitment in the UK's science and tech sectors, a “talent network” will be set up in the Bay Area of San Francisco and Boston in the US in 2022, and also Bengaluru in India – places the Treasury described as “innovation hotspots”.

By 2023, the programme will be expanded to six countries, targeting universities, research institutions and innovation hubs.

The Treasury's previous pledges include a new £500m fund to support those struggling with the cost of living over the winter.

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