Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Greg Hands.)
I congratulate the Minister on the perfect timing of his arrival in the Chamber, which I can only assume is a result of having some sort of superfast broadband connection to inform him that the debate was about to commence.
The title of the debate could be somewhat confusing. It is about broadband in east Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire, and by east Yorkshire I mean the whole ceremonial county, not the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight), which should perhaps be called Bridlington and Pocklington, although I am not sure what the good folk of Market Weighton would think about that. [Interruption.] Or Driffield, indeed. Nevertheless, it is good to have my right hon. Friend here to support the debate from his new position as a member of the Government, and I congratulate him on that. I think he is the only Member from east Yorkshire or north Lincolnshire to be serving in government. I was shocked not to receive a call myself, but there is always another year.
The debate will focus on both east Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire, as I represent communities in both. I will therefore split my speech into a number of sections. My main focus is to put some questions to the Minister on certain issues, and I will list those at the beginning of my speech rather than wait until the end—I always think it is fairer to Ministers that way. First, I will talk about flexibility in broadband delivery and particularly whether wireless broadband can be considered as a possible solution along with fixed-line deployment. Secondly, I will ask the Minister whether the north Lincolnshire broadband bid can be moved further up the procurement ladder, and thirdly, I will talk about deployment across the east riding with reference to Kingston Communications. Of course, the position in the broader Hull area is unique, because there is no BT provision, only KC. Fourthly, I will seek assurances from the Minister about the potential funding gap in the east riding’s broadband plan, and fifthly, I will ask for guarantees that projects are on course to be completed by 2015. I believe we have until half-past 10, so I may also speak for a short while about 4G provision, which I plan to get to at about 9.50 pm. We are in for a good evening.
This campaign enjoys cross-party, cross-Humber support, and it is good to see my hon. Friends the Members for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) in the Chamber. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) are also much involved with this issue. In general, superfast broadband cannot come quick enough to the good folk of east Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire, and in parts we enjoy some of the worst broadband connectivity in the country. As we try and move our economy forward, particularly the renewables agenda and our enterprise zones, it is vital that rural broadband—and, indeed, more urban broadband —is rolled out as quickly as possible.
I congratulate the Government—the Conservative-led Government as we like to call them when things are going well; the coalition Government when things are not going quite so well—on the £8.5 million they are investing in what they are not allowed to call the Humber region: north Lincolnshire and east Yorkshire. We have a number of not-spots across our area, and for my constituents—particularly in villages such as Adlingfleet that rests on the east Yorkshire/north Lincolnshire border, which is currently undefended—there is absolutely no broadband coverage and people struggle to get 0.5 megabits on their fixed-line broadband.
The roll-out of broadband cannot come fast enough. More and more of my constituents have to work from home and want to access telehealth services, which is simply not possible with the sort of connection speeds found in a lot of those communities. I therefore welcome the commitment to have superfast broadband rolled out to 90% of my constituents by 2015, with the remainder receiving 2 megabit broadband through other means.
I mentioned some of the benefits of superfast broadband. In north Lincolnshire, it has been estimated that the average cost of residential care is £18,000 a year per person and, as I mentioned, there is an increasing move to telehealth services, which will return a saving of £11,000 per person in a single year. I went to see telehealth services in operation at Goole in the east Yorkshire part of my constituency and I was incredibly impressed. Of course, if people do not have good broadband connectivity—or none at all—it is not possible for those services to be rolled out.
In north Lincolnshire, 52% of children under 15 are unable to use the same online tools they use at school because of poor or no access to the internet. As my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe will attest, I know from my previous profession that more and more homework is delivered through online tools that young people have to access at home, but that is not possible for a lot of our communities. Indeed, in some communities in east riding, it is not even possible to access those tools at school. I visited Pollington-Balne primary school on the edge of east riding, which is unable even to access BBC education tools. The kids all have iPads and are connected to the school internet, but they are unable to access even the most basic tools on the BBC website.
This morning I kicked off the new school term at Goole college where I had a meeting with the newly appointed principal—I congratulate her on that—and she told me of the problems there. Broadband access, therefore, is a problem not only in rural communities, but also in more urban areas. More and more of our constituents across east Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire are seeking to access education online, whether through distance learning or something else, but find that that is simply not possible given some of the connection speeds.
My point is that broadband is not, dare I say it, just a problem in the north of the country; it is also a problem in the south-west. Broadhempston primary school got access to broadband for the first time only last year and, as my hon. Friend has said, without that, how can our young people learn?
There will be no mention of Lancashire, Mr Deputy Speaker, which I know will disappoint you.
My hon. Friend’s point was a general one about the whole country. Many of our schools cannot access the educational tools they wish to access because of poor broadband speeds. Access to those speeds makes such a difference. The double whammy in my area is that schools have lower funding compared with schools in other parts of the country. Investing in more impressive kit therefore becomes more challenging for them.
It is estimated that small and medium-sized enterprises with superfast broadband continue to grow by 4.7%, compared with 0.6% for those without. My hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe recently collected an award on behalf of Scunthorpe because it has the fastest-growing online retail business.
I congratulate my hon. Friend and neighbour on securing the debate. He is quite right that the Google award for retail, of which people locally are very proud, went to Scunthorpe last year. He importantly underlines the value of broadband in not only retail, but business generally, health, education and other services. I was pleased when he said that he will urge the Government to bring forward the 2015 date for rolling out broadband in north Lincolnshire and look forward to him getting to that section of his speech.
I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for his intervention. He is right. I visited a business in West Cowick on Saturday that wants to grow but that is currently restricted by its broadband connectivity. It attracts many corporate clients—we need that kind of cash in our part of the world—but it will struggle as it tries to expand because of its poor broadband connectivity.
That brings me to one solution and my first main point: the potential for wireless broadband to help with the roll-out. I was unaware of the amount of wireless availability in the area. Jibba Jabba, whose catchy name will resonate with anybody who used to watch “The A-Team”, is part of Lakeside IT and based in Doncaster—we will forgive it for being just over the border in south Yorkshire—and Quickline, which is based in Hessle, are two locally based companies that currently offer between 10 megabits and 40 megabits, which is roughly equivalent to the speeds experienced by urban residents with carbon fibre connections. Their services are available across the whole of east Yorkshire and north Yorkshire and are expanding to cover north-east Lincolnshire.
I met the companies a few weeks ago and told them I would be interested in trialling wireless broadband alongside my fixed-line broadband to see how it works and have been staggered by what happened. I have done a number of speed tests in the past couple of weeks. In the small village of Airmyn, just outside Goole, where I live, I record speeds of about 2.5 megabits for downloads and 0.5 megabits for uploads on my fixed-line broadband. I cannot do a great deal with that—it is just enough to stream iPlayer and such, and sending files is incredibly time consuming. Speeds on my wireless broadband, which is simply a small box on the side of the house, have gone upwards of 28 megabits for downloads and about 18 megabits for uploads. Those numbers are currently reduced because something is being done to the mast, but they will increase.
In many other parts of the world, wireless broadband is being used as part of the roll-out, but it is not part of the delivery plans here. My argument to the Minister is that we need more of a push on wireless broadband. People in the whole of my constituency can achieve significant speeds through wireless broadband, so we need to give it more importance, because we will struggle in parts of the country to roll out fixed-line broadband by 2015.
I support all my hon. Friend says on the importance of flexibility, but as fewer fixed-line companies can compete with BT, does he agree that the new parts of the market he describes become even more crucial as part of the franchise if we are to have the open, competitive market that will solve the problem?
I agree entirely, and it comes, of course, without all the infrastructure problems. I have a lot of respect for BT and have worked with it on a number of issues, but the roll-out programme is very BT-centric, and we need to consider broadening that. As one wireless provider said to me, “It’s not the entire solution, but it can bring rapid deployment at reasonably little cost”, which would help to justify, particularly in marginal areas, the demand for those areas being commercially fibred—if that is the term. BT is involved in that through its trialling of white space wireless technology. This has to be part of the solution. I am told that in many parts of the world—eastern Europe and the US, for example—superfast wireless broadband is very much part of the mix. We want that mix here. I want wireless broadband rolled out as far as possible by 2015.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. He makes a powerful case for our area and will know that the border between his constituency and mine is a particular blackspot. Ironically, Humberside international airport is located in the area around the villages of Kirmington and Croxton. We all recognise the importance of connectivity, both physically and through the broadband network, and he is right that it is vital that this is not entirely an O2 job and that we look to other providers. As we know, it is competition that makes the difference.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the communities on our boundary, South Ferriby, has sourced a wireless solution for the village from one of the providers I mentioned earlier. It has decided to get on and do it itself.
I want to turn to the North Lincolnshire delivery plan. It is good news that in our area BT has commercially fibred the Brigg exchange, while it has recently been announced that the Scunthorpe exchange, which my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe and I share, will be upgraded. Across most of north Lincolnshire, however, the situation will remain unchanged. The broadband delivery plan bid is for £12 million, of which £2.62 million is being provided by Broadband Delivery UK and the rest match funded by the European regional development fund—which, of course, is just British taxpayers’ money by another means and with a big chunk taken out—and by the council and the private sector.
I want to make the case to the Minister on why we must be moved up the list of priorities. North Lincolnshire is a particularly high priority owing to the accessibility and relative compactness of northern Lincolnshire as a rural area. It is also very flat in large parts, which makes roll-out much simpler, and has good ground conditions, making cable laying inexpensive. I am more than happy for him to visit north Lincolnshire, if he wants, to see how easy it is to dig up our land.
Yes, he can bring a shovel.
We have high levels of economic growth based on renewables and offshore wind. We have big investment coming that will be a real motivator to delivery as we move forward, and we have two giant enterprise zones, one on the south bank at Grimsby and the Able marine energy park, which will bring with it thousands of jobs. The delivery plan has been highly rated. Indeed, when people came up from the Cabinet Office in the past couple of weeks to look at how North Lincolnshire’s delivery plan was written, they were said to be very impressed. It is a high priority for BT and is sixth on Fujitsu’s priority list. Sadly, however, we are 23rd on the BDUK procurement list and have been given a slot in December. With the issues around state aid, however, there are concerns that there could be some slippage. Given the huge renewables agenda in our area and the high priority given by BT and Fujitsu, we deserve to be reconsidered. All areas will make that claim, of course, but there are specific reasons north Lincolnshire should be moved up the procurement list. I will be more than happy to provide the Minister with even more reasons, should he want them.
Not quite. I am going to talk about east Yorkshire now; it is a disadvantage of representing two counties. [Interruption.] With almost perfect timing, my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness joins the debate just as I move on to east riding.
We have a specific issue in a large part of east Yorkshire. Kingston Communications, the telephone service provider in Hull and the surrounding area up to Beverley, is a separate company that was developed by the local council. There is no BT provision in that area. KC’s internet service, Karoo, has a mixed reputation, but it is delivering broadband speeds of 100 megabits in parts of Hull. KC is, however, excluded from the national procurement framework. Will the Minister take into account the unique nature of the area, given that it has that historical network which specifically excludes BT? KC cables are installed not only in the area from Hull to Beverley but across the whole of east Yorkshire, and they could be tapped into as part of the roll-out.
The delivery of the East Riding’s broadband plan will be particularly difficult, because it is the most rural unitary authority in England. It has particular geographical problems and a lot of small, remote communities.
My hon. Friend will also know just how many small businesses there are in the East Riding of Yorkshire. It is not some rural backwater. There is a huge amount of entrepreneurial activity there, and it is increasingly reliant on access to the internet. That is why I congratulate him on securing this important debate tonight.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He is a passionate advocate of better broadband connectivity in his constituency, and I know that he takes a close interest in this issue.
If the funding gap for the East Riding broadband plan is greater than 50%, will Ministers look again at its funding allocation? We welcome the Government’s temporary announcement on broadband infrastructure planning, which we hope will speed up the roll-out. We also hope that safeguards will be put in place to accommodate reasonable objections, particularly in conservation areas. Will the Minister give a guarantee that the projects in east Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire are on course to be completed in 2015?
I am using the opportunity of this longer Adjournment debate to raise all these points, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I hope that it meets with your approval that I am taking more time than usual. There are two counties involved and the case for each of the broadband delivery plans is compelling. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to my questions on wireless, on North Lincolnshire’s position on the list, on whether there will be a funding gap in the East Riding, and on whether we can look into the KC issue.
I should like to put on record that my right hon. Friends the Members for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight) and for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and I all fully support my hon. Friend in his efforts to make the case for improved broadband infrastructure in east Yorkshire.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I should tell him, kindly soul that I am, that I mentioned those colleagues earlier in the debate. We are all on the same page on this issue.
My final point is on the same topic but goes off on a slight tangent. It relates to 4G. We know that 4G technology is going to play a part in the nation’s broadband solution, and it is particularly important for people on the go. For many, that is equally as important as their broadband at home. It is always good to cite a report in Parliament, and I should like to mention one produced by Capital Economics, which found that the deployment of 4G broadband could create or protect 125,000 jobs nationally and lead to £5.5 billion-worth of direct investment over the next three years, adding 0.5% to the UK’s gross domestic product.
We had a conversation recently with Everything Everywhere, which I believe is Orange and T-Mobile, and it has been given permission to roll out 4G on some of its spectrum—tomorrow, I believe. It is important that the 4G spectrum auction, which has already seen significant delays—I want to press the Minister on this point—happens as soon as possible, so that consumers can benefit from more competition in the market and have good access to superfast broadband not only at home, but when they are on the go, too. On those points, I conclude and look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and his assurances.
I congratulate my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) once again on securing this debate on a subject that is vital throughout the country and particularly in our part of northern Lincolnshire. I cannot speak for the east Yorkshire part of my hon. Friend’s constituency, because that is beyond the passport control point.
Northern Lincolnshire has been recognised by the Government in their excellent decisions over recent months in designating enterprise zones in the Grimsby and Cleethorpes constituencies, to which my hon. Friend referred. The Government recognised the possibilities for the renewable sector, particularly the offshore renewable sector. Like my hon. Friend, I do not particularly care for onshore renewable wind turbines, but we recognise the importance of offshore, and if that is to take place, not just the large companies based on Immingham dock—the largest port in the country—but the small, rural villages need to be involved, too. I mentioned in my intervention Croxton and Kirmington in my constituency, which have been particularly badly hit. Their parish councils are doing a tremendous job in constantly bringing that to my attention.
Immingham itself has a number of blackspots. It is fair to congratulate Tom Horton at the Oasis academy which, along with One Voice Immingham, has played a large part in advocating the needs of the area. Indeed, they got Virgin interested in providing an alternative broadband service to that of BT—not to that of O2, as I mentioned earlier; it would seem that I live in the past, when O2 was part of BT. As I say, this is important not just for businesses based in Immingham dock, but for small businesses that can develop in the villages around the constituency of the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) as well as those in my Cleethorpes constituency. We have also recently heard about difficulties accessing benefits. That can be done online, and we need to encourage it.
In recent months, one of the Government’s actions to boost our area has been the reduction in Humber bridge tolls. Only today the Grimsby Telegraph—that organ of local communication so vital to people of the Grimsby and Cleethorpes area—features a story about a business that relocated into Barton-upon-Humber in the north end of my constituency solely because of the benefits accrued since the reduction in the tolls. We have seen—
Order. I am sure that it is possible to discuss many parts of the county, but I am sure, too, that we want to get back to the subject of broadband rather than the tolls. I can see the benefit of their reduction for businesses, but it is certainly not for the benefit of this debate.
Order. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that is not part of the debate. Members certainly do not need to reply to the point or bring it into the debate again. I am being very generous and I am trying to help. I am sure that no one wants to test the Chair’s patience at this stage.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. One of the important consequences of the campaign for broadband in northern Lincolnshire is the teamwork that has developed between my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole, the hon. Members for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell), and for Scunthorpe, and me. I believe that we are known locally as the A team.
The importance of broadband to small businesses in my constituency cannot be overestimated. We have developed considerably since the dark days of 20 years ago and the decline of the fishing industry in the neighbouring constituency of Great Grimsby. The development of that industry has actually been encouraged by broadband, and by sales throughout the UK and abroad.
I shall now conclude my remarks and await the comments of the Minister, who I know will have positive news for the people of northern Lincolnshire.
It is a great pleasure to respond to the debate, which began rather earlier than I had expected. I am glad that the eye-level cameras have not yet been installed in the Chamber, because if they had been, they would have captured graphic high-definition images of my sweating face as I returned post-haste to the Chamber to respond to this important debate.
It is good to be back in the Chamber of the House of Commons, but thanks to modern technology—partly brought about by the advent of modern communications —one is able to keep in touch with colleagues even when one is not in the Chamber. I must say that during the reshuffle madness that overtook us earlier in the week, when some of us were hoping to hold on to our jobs, I was grateful to Twitter for giving me an insight into the mental state of some of my colleagues.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) on initiating this important debate. Let me begin by saying that I think he is a great loss to the Front Bench. I know that it is only a matter of time before the Prime Minister sees sense and appoints him to the Front Bench, not least because I have read some of his tweets, which give an indication of the policies that will be introduced when he does join us. Lancashire is to be declared a rogue state; a new Department will be set up, the Department for Brigg and Goole—
Knowing your personal interest in the future of Lancashire, Mr Deputy Speaker, I thought it important for you to understand the policies that may be presented to the House in future, including, of course, the final policy—the change of name from Snickers to Marathon. But you are quite right: it is important for us to return to the subject of the debate.
Let me also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) on contributing so ably to the debate. He is a soothsayer. I read a tweet from him 131 days ago, in which he said “Louise Mensch is a great talent of our party. One day she will be leader.” I read a later tweet regretting her departure from the House of Commons.
Order. I do not think that we should have any more mention of tweets. I think that we should return to the subject of broadband, and not worry about Members who have left the House and given notice that they no longer wish to be part of it. I call the Minister, and I hope that he will return to the subject in hand.
It is very important for us to debate the provision of broadband services in the constituency of Brigg and Goole. My hon. Friend mentioned six issues on which he would like to hear from me about progress. The first was wireless provision. The second was whether the bid from his part of the world could be moved up the ladder. The third was the role of Kingston Communications in broadband delivery. The fourth was the question of what steps might be taken if a funding gap arises. The fifth was a request for a guarantee that broadband roll-out will be finished by 2015. The sixth was an update on 4G spectrum. In responding to those six points, I have an opportunity to update my hon. Friend and the House on the progress that has been made in achieving the Government’s objective of stimulating more private sector investment in locations where the commercial investment case is weak.
Let me make it clear that we do not underestimate the importance of superfast broadband in stimulating economic growth and in providing a core service for many businesses and consumers throughout the country. That is why one of the first steps we took on coming to office was to set aside some £530 million to support public intervention. It is important to stress the fact that that money has been provided to support the roll-out of superfast broadband where the market will not deliver.
The market will deliver to about two thirds of the country, mainly the urban areas. That will be done by BT and Virgin Media in competition with each other, and I am delighted to be able to say that both of those companies are investing many hundreds of millions of pounds in rolling out superfast broadband. Virgin Media has doubled the speeds it offers to consumers to about 100 megabits and BT has advanced the roll-out of its commercial broadband programme by a year.
Everybody knows, however, that some public support is needed to get broadband to some areas, particularly rural areas where the cost of laying fibre exceeds the potential market return. The £530 million sum I mentioned has been supplemented by a £150 million urban broadband fund, as well as a further £150 million for mobile infrastructure projects, and because of the way we have set out the programme, there will be additional money from local councils. There will be between £1 billion and £1.5 billion of public money going into broadband roll-out. That is a very significant amount of public expenditure in infrastructure.
The newspapers are full of talk about stimulation for growth and investment in “shovel-ready projects”. This is a shovel-ready project that will be going ahead in the next weeks and months and over the next two years. It will not only provide jobs, as many people will be employed to lay this fibre, but stimulate the economy by providing a broadband infrastructure.
I would like to acknowledge the significant contribution made by local authorities, which have stepped up to the challenge magnificently both in identifying local funds to match the Government contribution and in leading project procurement and implementation. North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire councils have put together proposals for a joint project, and East Riding of Yorkshire council has developed plans for a project in east Yorkshire. Indeed, we have been able to approve all local broadband plans, with the exception of one, Sandwell, which I hope will be ready for approval in the very near future.
Broadband Delivery UK state aid broadband notification has taken longer to be approved by the European Commission than was anticipated. We had hoped it would be approved earlier in the year, but we believe we are now in the final stage of discussions with the Commission on the detail, and we hope it will be signed off shortly. Once we have that approval, the BDUK team in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will be able to give state aid approval for all projects that are compatible with the notification, allowing for a much more rapid turnaround than if the Commission had to deal with each one separately. I recognise that there has been some impact on the project pipeline, but we will work as hard as we can to meet our 2015 deadline for having the best superfast broadband in Europe.
We have used this time to our advantage. We have prepared projects for procurement under the BDUK framework. The framework contract was agreed by DCMS with BT and Fujitsu at the end of June. It allows projects to undertake accelerated procurement with standard terms and conditions. Five projects are already in procurement using the framework, and we have agreed with the bidders that further projects will enter procurement at a rate of about one per week from October onwards. We expect procurement to be complete by next summer. I would like to recognise the willingness shown by the suppliers to accommodate our shared desire to increase the pace of procurement.
I want to say a few words about broadband in north Lincolnshire. There may be concerns about the pipeline of projects, and my hon. Friend mentioned his concern about where his project resides in the list. The situation is straightforward: projects are listed in line with the order in which local broadband plans were approved. Projects that were able to move more quickly at the early stage have therefore appeared earlier in the list. While there may be other ways of defining the list, our experience has been that the order in which the projects come forward does broadly match their readiness to go ahead. However, if projects are not ready when their procurement slot is reached, we will promote another project up the list. I do not want to encourage my hon. Friend therefore to sabotage other broadband projects, but it is important that he be aware that, in effect, the list reflects when projects are ready for procurement; but the list can change, and it is therefore important that he and the project team keep in touch with BDUK.
BDUK is working to progress projects to preparation at the earliest opportunity, and I understand that north Lincolnshire should be entering the BDUK assurance process in early November and will be able to launch its open market review in that month. That will be a significant milestone for the project.
My hon. Friend also mentioned his concern about funding gaps. Again, I do not want to give him or others who have spoken in the debate false hope, but obviously our door is always open to hear concerns and requests. However, we do need clear evidence of a gap in funding before considering a request for further funding. We certainly expect good evidence to be made available of any shortfall, and we will consider a good case if one is put forward. I stress to my hon. Friend, however, that there needs to be clear evidence of a funding gap.
My hon. Friend also mentioned the position of Kingston Communications. The use of suppliers not listed on the framework is a matter for the project teams. We have of course encouraged projects to use the framework because it saves time and procurement process costs. We expect all the remaining procurements to be undertaken using the framework. We recognise that other suppliers, such as Kingston Communications, may have an interest in this programme. However, it must be for the project team, working with BDUK, to decide whether the benefits of opening the procurement more widely would offset the benefits of effectively departing from the framework contract. That is an important point to make.
It is possible for them to do that, but as I say, they have to work with BDUK to decide whether that is the right way forward. It is for BDUK to sign off a procurement process that goes outside the framework. The decision has to be in conjunction with BDUK; it cannot simply be unilateral. BDUK is willing to sit down and discuss with the project team whether that is the appropriate way forward, but I must stress that it has to be done with BDUK.
Of course they will. You have indulged me enormously with my rather frivolous opening remarks, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I hope you will not regard it as frivolous when I say that, although my team of officials working in BDUK is small, they are highly effective and have devoted themselves to this project. I have never found them lacking in their ability to engage with Members.
I have made it a rule as a Minister always to have a meeting with any hon. Member who wishes to engage with me on this project, and the officials at BDUK have been utterly tireless in working with both me and other hon. Members to provide assurances. The team will work with Members, but I stress that it is important to work in partnership with BDUK and to listen to its advice about whether departing from the framework is the right way to go.
I have dealt with moving up the ladder, with how Kingston Communications could be involved, with our attitude to any funding gap and with our desire to reach our goal by 2015 notwithstanding the slight delay in obtaining state aid approval. My hon. Friend mentioned wireless technology and asked whether it would be part and parcel of any solution. We have always taken a technology-neutral approach to the delivery of broadband and it would be up to whoever won the contract to provide broadband in his part of the world to decide on the best delivery methods. For example, that could be provided purely by fibre, with the potential for some wi-fi, although we have always said that satellite could play a small part in the mix, too. It is important to take a technology-neutral approach and for the appropriate mix of technologies to be used to deliver superfast broadband at a cost-effective price.
I should mention a couple of other points. First, we had an important announcement last Friday, which should interest my hon. Friends, about removing some of the planning obstacles to rolling out superfast broadband. That is relevant, as it ensures that the money set aside by the Government and my hon. Friends’ councils to deliver superfast broadband will go as far as possible.
Finally, I know that I have stretched your patience, Mr Deputy Speaker, but my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole mentioned 4G, which is also an important part of the broadband mix. People have complained that the 4G auction has been delayed and, of course, the 800 MHz spectrum at the heart of 4G has not yet been cleared because it was used for analogue television; we have not fully switched over to digital television and will not do so until the end of October. As I am sure my hon. Friend is aware—he mentioned the company in his speech—Everything Everywhere has applied to liberalise its 1,800 MHz spectrum for 4G and we are due to hold the auction for 4G spectrums 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz at the end of the year. We are on the verge of tipping over to introducing 4G services at the end of this year and throughout next year, which will have a transformative effect on the services available for mobile users.
As my hon. Friend said, more and more people are accessing the internet and, effectively, broadband services using mobile platforms. That is crucial to future growth in the UK economy and the Government will work very hard with mobile network operators to ensure that both the liberalisation of 1,800 MHz and the auction of 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz go as smoothly as possible, because at the heart of this question are the consumers and the businesses that will benefit from the introduction of 4G and of superfast broadband.
Question put and agreed to.