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Major Digital Infrastructure

Volume 632: debated on Tuesday 28 November 2017

The Government are investing more than £1 billion to stimulate the market to build the next-generation digital infrastructure the UK needs for its future. At the autumn Budget, we launched a £190 million challenge fund for gold-standard full fibre broadband, provided £160 million to develop 5G networks and invested £35 million to improve mobile connectivity for rail passengers.

Last week, I held a Westminster Hall debate on the Scottish Government’s catastrophic failure to deliver superfast broadband for rural communities across Scotland. In that debate, the Minister for Digital confirmed that millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has not been released by the Scottish Government to help roll out superfast broadband. What discussions has my hon. Friend had with Ministers from the Scottish Government to ensure that money gets to where it needs to be—rural communities in need of better broadband service?

The Government are supporting the roll-out of superfast broadband right across the UK, and that has included allocating more than £120 million to help the Scottish Government deliver 100% superfast coverage in Scotland by 2021. To be specific, the Minister for Digital discussed progress with the Scottish Government on 6 November and had further discussions this week.

This is not good enough. If we are going to tackle the appalling productivity levels in our country, we need to invest in this sort of infrastructure, we need to invest in skills and we need to invest in top-class management. The Minister should get his act together and do it.

I think the hon. Gentleman may have missed some of the announcements in the Budget. Perhaps I could highlight one in particular: the £740 million from the national productivity investment fund that has been allocated for digital infrastructure.

The hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) is looking more upbeat than ever. Let’s hear the fella!

Thank you, Mr Speaker; it is nice to be back. I welcome, on behalf of my constituents, the digital announcement in the Budget last week—and the sight of a grown-up team in charge of the economy, unlike the reheated Marxists opposite. On productivity, does the Minister agree that we need public sector leadership to create a private-public partnership on digital infrastructure? May I also welcome the announcement in the Budget of a public sector leadership academy, so that we can invest in our public sector leaders?

My hon. Friend makes a typically insightful point. Digital improvement is one of the key drivers in improving our productivity, so I am happy to agree entirely with his wise points.

When will local authorities be told the basis on which they will be invited to apply for the new money that the Government have earmarked? Will the Minister assure me that it will be distributed on the basis of an area’s need, and not just the population numbers?

I will look into the point that the right hon. Gentleman raises and write to him with the answer.