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The UK government wants to give £20 million to startups that can solve traffic jams


Philip Hammond

  • The funding will be overseen by a new "GovTech Catalyst" team.
  • Money will be given to companies working on issues in areas like healthcare and education.
  • It could be used to fund research from companies like Google DeepMind.

Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced on Wednesday that the UK Government has ringfenced £20 million to help public services "take advantage" of expertise in fields such as artificial intelligence (AI).

Hospitals and schools will be able to tap into the funding and use it to pay AI companies and other firms for access to their staff and their resources.

It will specifically be used to fund private sector research and development on technologies that could help to solve public sector issues such as traffic jams, teacher availability, and NHS patient experiences. When a final product is ready, public sector bodies can then choose whether they want to buy it.

The £20 million fund will be operated by a new GovTech Catalyst team, which will work with public sector bodies and help them to identify areas where they can use tech developed by the private sector technology.

The government said in an announcement that the GovTech Catalyst team will also act as a "front door" for tech firms that want to work with public sector organisations.

Announcing the fund, Chancellor Philip Hammond said in a statement:

"Britain is a world leader in digital innovation with some of the brightest and best tech-firms operating in this country. Working with us, they can provide technological fixes to public sector problems, boost productivity, and get the nation working smarter as we create an economy fit for the future."

One tech firm that has started working closely with the government on healthcare matters is Google DeepMind, which has signed a number of partnerships with NHS trusts across the country. This work is largely being done for free at the moment but DeepMind hopes to start charging government after it has proven that its technology is benefitting the health service.

The funding — available from 2018-19 to 2020-21 — was announced alongside several other measures that are designed to stimulate and support the growth of the UK tech sector, including a £21 million investment in government quango Tech City UK, which is being rebranded to Tech Nation.

Prime Minister Theresa May will meet with UK tech entrepreneurs and innovators on Wednesday to find out how the government can work better with them. She said in a statement:

"Our digital tech sector is one of the UK's fastest-growing industries, and is supporting talent, boosting productivity, and creating hundreds of thousands of good, high-skilled jobs up and down the country.

It is absolutely right that this dynamic sector, which makes such an immense contribution to our economic life and to our society, has the full backing of Government.

Helping our world-class entrepreneurs and innovators to succeed is how we lay the foundations for our prosperity and build an economy fit for the future.

Technology is at the heart of our modern Industrial Strategy, and we will continue to invest in the best new innovations and ideas, in the brightest and best talent, and in revolutionary digital infrastructure.

And as we prepare to leave the European Union, I am clear that Britain will remain open for business. That means Government doing all it can to secure a strong future for our thriving tech sector and ensure people in all corners of our nation share in the benefits of its success."

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