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Superfast Broadband (Rural Areas)

Volume 597: debated on Tuesday 30 June 2015

6. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on the importance of superfast broadband to rural businesses. (900635)

There have been no recent discussions between the Business Secretary and the Culture Secretary, but as the Secretary of State for Business was the Secretary of State for Culture and therefore responsible for the broadband programme, a meeting is not necessary at this moment.

The second phase of the connecting Devon and Somerset superfast broadband programme has not been signed this week, and this could have an enormous negative impact on the economy of my constituency, Taunton Deane. For example, one business, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, has recently moved from Staple Fitzpaine, taking eight rural jobs with it because it had no broadband. Please will the Minister intervene urgently to ensure that this vital service is provided not just for Taunton Deane, but for the whole of Somerset?

I am delighted to welcome my hon. Friend to her place. Within weeks of arriving here, she is already proving that she will be a champion for her constituents, particularly on this issue. I am delighted that 52,000 premises in her constituency have superfast broadband. Another 10,000 will get it and I will continue to work with her and all MPs in Devon and Somerset to ensure that the broadband roll-out programme goes to plan.

Has the Minister had any discussions with the devolved institutions about co-operating on rural broadband? The providers are UK-wide and there are opportunities for such discussions.

We work closely with the Northern Ireland Executive on the issue. Something like £23 million is helping to roll out superfast broadband in Northern Ireland and get it to the level it should be at.

My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) was right to mention rural businesses. Does the Minister agree that it is important for BT and others to streamline the way in which local authorities can provide match funding to help the final 5%?

Yes. The success of the broadband programme so far means that focus is now turning to the final 5%, and in the next few months we will announce our plans to deliver for them. I am delighted that some £14 million has helped Hampshire get to 89%, and phase 2 will take it to 96%.

Does the Minister think that it is acceptable that in half the Government’s enterprise zones firms do not have full access to superfast broadband?

It is important that we get superfast broadband to as many businesses as possible. I was delighted that last week we were able to say that 25,000 businesses have taken advantage of our excellent voucher scheme.