I was at the Leeds Club earlier this month to hear a keynote speech by Kevin Hollinrake, the MP for Thirsk and Malton.
The subject was Connecting Our Future, although it could also have been called ‘Two areas of policy where we are performing abysmally and need to take urgent action’.
The event was the fourth in the Public Square series organised by the IoD, Leeds City Council and Leeds Beckett University.
Kevin Hollinrake set the tone by reminding the audience that only two per cent of premises in the UK have an ultra-fast broadband fibre connection, ranking us 27th out of 28 European countries, including such leaders in the field as Spain and Latvia. Citing examples of rural businesses being forced to move because of connectivity issues, he said: “Not only do we need to invest in, and connect, the great cities of the North but also our towns and villages.
“The issue of a connected future, including the internet of things, not only impacts on today’s communities but on future generations across Yorkshire.”
The estimated cost for moving our outdated copper wire network on to the modern standard of fibre could be as much as £25bn and that’s assuming we get on with it.
There is an ongoing debate about whether BT and Openreach are able to deliver what is needed, however they are configured.
BT had announced a £6bn plan to get two million premises connected by 2022, taking coverage up to – seven per cent.
It’s not enough. Dan Lewis, head of infrastructure policy at the IoD, recently said: “Our members tell us that broadband is the number one issue for them.
“Faster broadband would make them more productive. We have a booming digital economy but it is in spite of the network, not because of it”.
The importance is highlighted by recent political events and the nature of our region. As we go through the process of leaving the EU and establishing a new place in the world, it is less than ideal to be working off an inadequate communication infrastructure base.
Talk of the region as a whole brought the meeting on to a subject that is beginning to rouse real passions and is just as important for our future: devolution.
In particular, the failure of Yorkshire as a whole to get engaged with the devolution agenda as set by central government for the benefit of all of our people.
We need to accept that the only acceptable solution is to agree a deal across as much of Yorkshire as possible.
Until we can speak with a single voice you can be sure what we will get from Westminster – nowt.