Beyond the headline news about budget surpluses and changes to tax thresholds, the Budget announced by George Osborne on 16th March contained some good news for the data industry. It reflects an ongoing commitment to encouraging data and analytics, which are viewed as one of the five pillars of the economy, and ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of innovation and best practice.
Encouraging second STEM degrees (and maths for all)
Lack of skills among practitioners and their managers is one of the biggest risk factors for the continued adoption of data and analytics by business. A shortage of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) qualified graduates has been building up over the past decade. Without knowledge of these primary areas that drive the industry, it is hard to innovate and thrive.
For the first time, the government will provide direct support to any adults who want to go into further education, take a part-time second degree or enter a postgraduate master’s course in STEM. That will see the provision of loans for level 3 up to level 6 training. As a result, this could fill a critical gap among business leaders who need to skill-up in order to understand and adopt the new data-driven, scientific approach.
The Government also announced it is look at making maths a compulsory subject up to the age of 18. This is to be encouraged given the fundamental important of data literacy to anybody entering the new business world. Numeracy gets you a long way if you want a career anywhere, but in the data industry it is a must-have.
Investing in data innovation
A new National Institute for Smart Data Innovation, based in Newcastle, is set to receive £15 million in government backing, subject to having its business case approved. The goal will be to bring together industry, public sector and academic actors to develop skills, ideas and resources around smart data. Alongside the new National Centre for Coding and existing Data Labs, this reflects the continued commitment to keeping the UK in a leading position globally around data and technology developments.
Looking again at open address data
When Royal Mail was privatised last year, one of the key data assets that went with it was PAF (Postal Address File). At the time, some campaigners argued that it should be made an open data set, but their argument was not successful.
In this Budget, it was announced that up to £5 million will be provided to develop options for an authoritative address register that would be open data and freely available, while continuing to be frequently updated. Precise address data was identified as having the potential to unlock opportunities for innovation.
Taxing the sharing economy
If you are a physical world business, like a hotel chain, then it is galling to see your business being eroded by emerging rivals in the sharing economy. Typically, these rely on individuals using under-utilised assets, such as a room or house in the case of Airbnb, and finding a marketplace for it through a new app or digital service. Income derived in this way has often not been declared for tax purposes, giving a competitive and price advantage to those small amateur traders and to the professional sharing economy businesses who give them a platform.
Perhaps the smartest and most future-focused move in this Budget is the announcement that the first £1,000 earned from online trading, car sharing, room letting and the like is tax-free. By creating an initial umbrella against taxation, it is likely more of that income will eventually be declared from such sharing economy sources and progressively cross over the threshold, leading to a new source of revenue for the government. That also creates a fairer market for big businesses who have been impacted by this pro-am arrival (a strategy also addressed elsewhere to close VAT loopholes).