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Technology: Hammond's promises bode well for UK construction innovation

It’s been a big week for the future of technology in construction.

First, on Monday, the prime minister announced that an extra £2bn of funding would be provided each year to 2020 for research and development, which was confirmed by chancellor Philip Hammond in his Autumn Statement on Wednesday.

Of course, that funding will be available to all industries, not just construction – but our sector should be ready to take advantage of it to try and close the gap it faces against other developed nations like France and Japan, which massively outspend UK construction on R&D.

“We do not invest enough in research, development and innovation,” the chancellor said.

“As the pace of technology advances and competition from the rest of the world increases, we must build on our strengths in science and tech innovation to ensure the next generation of discoveries is made, developed and produced in Britain.”

A sentiment we can all get behind, I’m sure.

Also encouraging to hear was the chancellor’s request for the National Infrastructure Commission to conduct a study into how technology can enhance the UK’s infrastructure.

The commission has been asked to identify which emerging technologies have the most potential to improve the management and maintenance of existing infrastructure, with a focus on digitisation, the internet of things, and artificial intelligence.

These measures, combined with extra funding to support ultra-low emission and autonomous vehicles, and a £1bn-plus investment into improving the UK’s digital infrastructure (its fibre and 5G networks), are of course welcome.

But as one contractor CEO said to me the this week, the devil will be in the detail.

How readily available will this R&D funding be to construction companies?

How many of the NIC’s proposals on technology will be adopted and implemented?

And how swiftly will high-speed fibre and broadband networks be installed?

Only time will tell, but this kind of investment in technology could be a big boost for UK construction – as well as the wider business community.

More tech

  • We have a full breakdown of the chancellor’s planned investments in R&D, innovation and technology here.
  • And some interesting technology is on show in this look at how contractors are helping to terror-proof the UK’s buildings.

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