The tech budget: Driverless cars are go, 5G roll-out and millions for AI

Driverless cars will be given the green light for testing on roads nationwide under plans in the Budget designed to ensure the vehicles are being used in Britain in as little as three years.

Tech investment is expected to be included in Wednesday's Budget

Chancellor Philip Hammond will announce changes to regulations to allow developers to test self-driving cars on UK roads for the first time.

The Treasury sees the rules as the last barrier to advanced, on-road testing, and hopes it will help realise the Chancellor’s vision of autonomous cars on British roads by 2021.

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The plans to support the driverless car industry, which officials estimate will be worth £28 billion to the economy by 2035 and support 27,000 jobs, come as part of a package of measures designed to help the UK become a world leader in the technological revolution.

Mr Hammond is expected to announce tens of millions of pounds of investment in areas like artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G mobile networks.

It is hoped the Budget will pave the way for the Government’s industrial strategy, which seeks to boost Britain’s lagging productivity and create more high-skilled jobs.

The investment includes:

:: £75 million for artificial intelligence

:: £400 million for electric car charge points

:: £100 million to boost clean car purchases

:: £160 million for next-generation 5G mobile networks across the UK

:: £100 million for an additional 8,000 fully-qualified computer science teachers supported by a new National Centre for Computing

:: A retraining partnership between the TUC (Trade Union Congress), CBI (Confederation of British Industry) and the Government

:: £76 million to boost digital and construction skills.

The support for 5G will include testing on UK roads to help provide the network needed for driverless cars, while £35 million will be focused on giving rail passengers reliable mobile signals and “lightning speed” internet during journeys, with trials due to begin on the Trans-Pennine route, which connects Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool.

Funding will also go to the National Cyber Security Centre so networks work safely and securely.

For AI, £20 million will support companies using the technology to develop pioneering services and £45 million will go towards increasing the number of PhD students in this area to 200 a year, while a further £9 million will fund an advisory body to remove barriers to development and ensure safe and ethical innovation.

The £400 million for a Charging Infrastructure Investment fund for electric cars will improve access to finance for businesses to build charge points, and an extra £100 million will be invested in the Plug-in Car Grant to help people with the cost of buying battery-powered vehicles, to support Britain’s transition to zero emission transport and improve air quality.

A national retraining scheme will help workers across the country learn new skills as more traditional jobs become automated.

A first step will include £36 million for digital skills courses using AI.

As part of the Government’s drive to build more homes, £40 million will be invested in construction training programmes for groundworkers, bricklayers, roofers and plasterers.

The partnership scheme with the TUC and CBI will also roll out across other sectors after the initial investment.