Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered the budget against the challenging backdrop of Brexit and an economy locked down by the Covid-19 pandemic. Alongside it, the government has also published Build Back Better: our plan for growth, a paper setting out its plans to support economic growth, as well as a series of other documents, including the Levelling Up Fund prospectus.
The full Budget document can be found at:https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/budget-2021-documents
- The Chancellor announced the creation of a new visa route that aims to attract “the best and most promising talent in science, research and tech” to the UK. The budget document states that the government is “modernising the immigration system to help the UK attract and retain the most highly-skilled, globally mobile talent – particularly in academia, science, research and technology – from around the world”, pledging the government would “introduce, by March 2022, an elite points-based visa”. (p62)
- The budget confirmed a freeze in the £9,250 English tuition fee cap for 2022-23 (p38)
- Payments for employers who hire new apprentices will be extended and increased. Between 1 April 2021 and 30 September 2021, employers will receive £3,000 for every new hire (p47)
- A review of R & D tax reliefs will be carried out (a consultation has been published alongside the Budget). It will consider all elements of R & D tax relief schemes to ensure cutting edge research is supported, that reliefs continue to be fit for purpose and that taxpayer money is effectively targeted. The government will also consider bringing data and cloud computing costs into the scope of relief (p64)
- A new £375 million fund will be created to help scale up the most innovative, R & D intensive businesses. Businesses investing in R & D, as well as new plant and machinery, will receive a tax “super-deduction” through a 130% upfront capital allowances deduction (p24)
- A new management training scheme will see “dozens of business schools” offer an “executive development programme”, with the government footing 90 per cent of the cost (p62)
- A £7 million fund will be created from July 2021 to help employers in England set up and expand portable apprenticeships to enable people who need to work across multiple projects with different employers to benefit from the high-quality long-term training (p47)
- A new UK Infrastructure Bank will be established with £12 billion of equity and debt capital to finance local authority and private sector infrastructure projects across the UK (p57)
- A prospectus for the £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund gives guidance to local areas on the process for submitting bids, the types of projects eligible for funding, and how bids will be assessed. To ensure that funding reaches the places most in need, council areas have been categorised into a three tier priority areas list. The budget also confirmed over £1 billion from the Towns Fund for a further 45 Town Deals across England (p59)
- £1.3 million will be invested over 2021-22 and 2022-23 to pilot the use of new technologies to support in or out-of-work people to find new job opportunities which are best suited to their skills and experience (p47)
Implications for governance
There is very little on higher education funding in this document, with most of the big decisions having been put back until the government’s final response to the Augar review, expected to be published with the Autumn spending review. The tuition fee cap freeze had already been announced in the interim Augar response (see Advance HE’s governor news alert).
Probably the most significant announcement is the plan to create a new elite visa route, clearly designed to attract more leading scientists, researchers, academics, and technology experts to the UK. This will be welcome news for universities, which already stand to benefit as employers from the Global Talent route for significant prize winners and scholarship holders. Governors will be interested to know what the prospects are for their own institution to attract such international “stars”, although there is already scope for lower level international academics to be recruited through the Skilled Worker route.
Another welcome feature of the Budget are a range of measures that aim to support and boost investment in R & D, including a review of tax reliefs which support companies that work on innovative projects in science and technology. The sector has already reacted positively to the announcement of a tax “super deduction” for investment by companies, including in research and innovation. Such developments may prompt governors to pay even closer attention to their institutions’ level of engagement with business and industry. The Budget does leave a question mark, however, over where the government plans to find the money to fund the UK’s post-Brexit association to Horizon Europe, the European Commission’s €95.5 billion (£87.6 billion) research and innovation programme. There are concerns that core R & D budgets may be raided to cover the cost, expected to run to around £2 billion a year.
Other noteworthy broad themes including the emphasis on apprenticeships and training, including at a higher level, which ministers have already highlighted with the publication of the FE White Paper , and the involvement of regional and local bodies in the “levelling up” agenda, and its associated funding. For universities, the latter points to the growing importance of civic engagement strategies, already recognised by many institutions. However, as the University Alliance has pointed out, while the levelling-up fund prospectus acknowledges universities as stakeholders, they are not captured as delivery partners for the fund, and the role of university R & D is also not mentioned, despite this playing an already central role in local regeneration activity. As there will be pressure from the sector on government to clarify its position in these areas, it will be worth keeping a close eye on this policy area.
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