Skip to main content

Digital Infrastructure

Volume 630: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2017

The Government are investing more than £1 billion to stimulate the market to build the next generation digital infrastructure that the UK needs for the future. This includes the £400 million digital infrastructure investment fund and the £740 million for full fibre broadband and 5G mobile. That is in addition to the Government-led £1.7 billion superfast programme, which will extend coverage to 95% of UK premises by the end of the year.

The vast majority of my constituents in east Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire now enjoy superfast broadband, but a small number in rural areas still struggle with access to broadband and to good 4G, 3G or even 2G mobile coverage. What more can the Government do to give BT Openreach and the mobile networks a kick up the backside to make sure that we get the coverage that we are all paying for?

The Government are working to continue their progress on the superfast broadband roll-out. We expect to reach 95% by the end of this year. We have already seen some changes from the internal reorganisation within British Telecom, separating out Openreach. The progress will be maintained through Government expenditure in that programme and in the digital infrastructure investment fund.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has just reported on the poor productivity record in this country. Investment in broadband is crucial to improving that, so when will the Minister respond to the letter that I wrote to him on 1 September about broadband in Teesdale?

I absolutely agree that broadband and digital progress are critical to the productivity of our economy. I am not aware of that letter. I will look into it with immediate effect, and I apologise for the delay.

As the fourth industrial revolution accelerates, superfast broadband will be key to the productivity of our high-growth technology businesses. Will the Minister continue working with entrepreneurs and businesses to ensure that they get the broadband system that they need?

I most certainly will continue to work on that. My hon. Friend has consistently spoken up on behalf of entrepreneurs and enterprise since he arrived in this House. The Government’s intention to pursue our broadband investment, whether it is superfast or full fibre, is right at the heart of our efforts to improve productivity.

BT has received hundreds of millions of pounds from the Government for public investment in the digital network. But there are parts of my constituency—both rural and urban—where broadband coverage is still very poor, such as the town of Carrickfergus. BT refused to look at innovative ways of splitting the network. Is it not time that the Government looked to other bids for some of the money they are investing in broadband in order to ensure that there is better coverage?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. All our constituencies have some areas that are not yet fully able to access the important benefits of broadband. I will discuss his points with my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government, and report back to him.

I am pleased that the Communities Secretary has been inspired by Labour’s fiscal credibility rule in relation to investment in infrastructure—including digital infrastructure and, recently, house building. But this does beg crucial questions. Does the Minister support his colleague’s bid to “borrow more to invest” or is it more a bid to steal the Chancellor’s job?

I have already outlined the Government’s progress on broadband. The hon. Gentleman mentions, I think, some kind of speculative comment regarding the forthcoming Budget. The Chancellor has already answered that question.

The digital infrastructure plans are wholly inadequate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) indicated. Is the Minister aware that productivity figures are at pre-crisis levels, and is he really aware that regional industries are up to seven times more productive than others? What is the digital investment strategy doing to close that shocking gap?

The hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten the announcement of the national productivity investment fund—a £23 billion pot of money for investment in infrastructure, including digital infrastructure, across the country. I have already mentioned the £400 million digital infrastructure investment fund and the £740 million for full-fibre broadband and 5G. We are already approaching the figure of 95% of UK premises having access to superfast broadband by the end of the year, and that puts us in a strong place for the future.