Rishi Sunak announced plans to commit more than £500 million in a new round of funding to help people back into work.
Delivering his first in-person speech as Chancellor, he told the Tory conference in Manchester, he is “ready to double-down” on his promise to “do whatever it takes” to recover from Covid-19.
He also said that he would only consider cutting taxes once the public finances are on a “sustainable footing”, adding that it would be “immoral” to borrow more.
But he did present an optimistic outlook, promising to put the UK at the forefront of the artificial intelligence revolution with new scholarships and research placements, describing the UK as “a global leader” in artificial intelligence, claiming it could be worth around £200 billion a year to the economy.
Confirming the additional £500 million in new funding to help people back into work, he told the conference: “Our recovery comes with a cost,” adding: “Our national debt is almost 100 per cent of GDP, so we need to fix our public finances.”
The CBI, which represents around 190,000 businesses, broadly supported the plan. Its president Tony Danker said: “Business shares the Chancellor’s ambitious vision for a high-growth economy driven by science, technology and innovation. The Government can rely on the skills, ingenuity and delivery capability of business to realise this vision.
“The Chancellor’s emphasis on equipping young people for the world of work, from the Kickstart scheme to new AI scholarships, as well as helping people retrain for the jobs of the future, is the right approach.
Whilst unemployed young people saw interventions and safety nets put in place during the pandemic, unfortunately the same could not be said for older workers
“The only way to achieve the high-wage, high-skill economy we all want is to unlock productivity through higher investment and growth. All must rise together to avoid a further squeeze on living standards and to realise a better decade than the last.”
James McLeod, VP EMEA at Faethm AI welcomed the technology focus. He said: “With all eyes fixed on how unemployment figures may change now the Furlough scheme has closed, this investment in jobs from the Government is a positive step.”
“It is particularly timely that the Chancellor has promised to reshape the economy around technology and scientific innovation, as many businesses impacted by the pandemic have invested in intelligent technologies such as AI and automation to reduce costs. Without action like this from Government and employers, we run the risk of many furloughed employees being digitally displaced.”
“The impact of technology on the skills needed for modern jobs, and the effects of the end of the furlough scheme, shouldn’t lead to skills shortages and mass unemployment. This is a critical juncture for the UK, and businesses need to be incentivised to retain furloughed staff, retrain them in essential digital skills and competencies, and redeploy them in more in-demand roles where they can offer longer-term benefits and growth opportunities.
“That way businesses can add capacity and increase productivity, all while making financially beneficial and morally responsible decisions, and developing a digitally adept workforce for the future.”
And City & Guilds Group CEO Kirstie Donnelly said: “Last week, the Furlough system came to an end, leaving the jobs of a million people across the UK hanging in the balance. Half of those were workers aged 50 and over. Whilst unemployed young people saw interventions and safety nets put in place during the pandemic, unfortunately the same could not be said for older workers.
“Our recent Skills Index research highlights that older workers also suffer from a chronic underinvestment in training, meaning many will struggle to re-enter the workplace despite their wealth of knowledge, skills and experience.
“Today, we have seen Rishi Sunak announce an extension to the Kickstart scheme as well as the introduction of an AI scholarship plan. Whilst these announcements are a positive step for the economy, they are once again tailored towards supporting young people.
“It is disappointing that the anticipated £500 million support package for displaced workers, including support older workers, was not mentioned in the Chancellor’s speech. We urge the Government to share the details of this package as quickly as possible, in order to provide support for workers of all ages.”
AI is the intelligent future for small businesses
How I is changing our Christmas shop
Why every business needs an AI-first strategy