'I'll get as much as I can': Hunt vows to pursue Fujitsu for compensation

ITV News' Business and Economics Editor Joel Hills spoke to the Chancellor at the WEF in Switzerland

At the World Economic Forum in Davos today, the chancellor was keen to trumpet an investment by Google.

The US tech company is spending $1 billion building its 27th data centre, its first in the UK.

Google’s annual budget for capital expenditure is more than $30 billion a year.

In November 2022, Jeremy Hunt said he wanted to turn the UK into “the World’s next Silicon Valley”.

Since then, while Meta has reduced its UK footprint, Microsoft has committed to building data centres.

Hunt sees signs of progress.

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“We are already Europe's Silicon Valley,” Hunt told ITV News. “We have more tech startups than anywhere else in Europe.

"And Elon Musk was saying just a couple of months ago that London and San Francisco are the two big global centres for AI.”

The chancellor was in a characteristically cheerful mood but he had reasons to feel cautiously upbeat.

The UK economy is barely growing but, last year, it did better than many economists predicted.

Compared to other advanced economies, like Germany and France, the U.K. no longer look like a laggard.

The Bank of England may be worried about the strength pay growth but, for the Chancellor, the fact that pay is rising faster than prices in the UK is cause for optimism - not least in a year when the Conservatives will be seeking re-election.

But Hunt acknowledges that our economic fortunes are tied to what happens next in the Middle-East.

The disruption caused by the attacks on shipping in the Red Sea will start to push-up prices in the UK, if it continues.

“We’re a global economy and we depend on trade,” Hunt said.

Chancellor says it will take three to six months for Red Sea conflict to have inflationary impact in UK

“We think that if [the disruption continues] over a period of time, you know, 3 to 6 months, you might start to see some impacts.

"But that is why the UK is taking action, because we want to make sure that doesn't happen.”

Conflicts in various parts of the world have cast a shadow over Davos this year.

In Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, Yemen, Iran and Pakistan, relations have frayed and the world feels like a more dangerous place.

The government’s ambition is to raise defence spending to 2.5% of GDP, from 2.2% currently.

I asked the chancellor if was a case for putting money on the table to hit that target in his next Budget on 6th March. He was non-commital.

“We have said we’ll do it as soon as we can afford to,” he told me.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has yet to tell the Chancellor how much “fiscal space” (room for manoeuvre) he will have at the Budget and Hunt was not keen to discuss his priorities but the impression I was left with is that he considers delivering tax cuts to be more important.

“Let me tell you the direction of travel,” Hunt said.

Jeremy Hunt says his priority in the forthcoming budget is to cut taxes

“I would like to reduce the tax burden, because I look at the numbers around the world, I see that places like America that have a lower taxes, have more dynamic economies and grow faster. And that's what I would like us to be.”

One expense that appears to be coming the chancellor’s way is the cost of compensating the victims of the Post Office scandal - estimated at £1 billion.

Today, Fujitsu announced it to suspend all bids for pubic contracts until conclusion of public inquiry.

The company has already agreed to pay compensation for part its flawed technology played.

The Horizon project will have earned Fujitsu £2.4 billion when the contract expires next year.

Hunt says Fujitsu has been involved in a cover-up regarding the Horizon scandal

Hunt wouldn’t be drawn on how money the taxpayer should receive.

“It appears is that there was an enormous cover up, but I don't want to prejudge what the inquiry concludes,” Hunt said.

“I will obviously go for as much of that money as I can”