Paying a price for digital void

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CONSIDERING THE outcry over the threat to the universal postal service, with the Royal Mail proclaiming itself one of the countryside’s last remaining lifelines, it is remarkable that more of a fuss is not being made about the appalling lack of broadband cover in many of Britain’s more remote areas.

Broadband, after all, is arguably as important as the mail service – if not more so – to many rural businesses, yet it seems to be accepted that North Yorkshire, for example, will receive only 92 per cent internet coverage at best, even on the Government’s long-term projections.

Such complacency cannot be tolerated, even more so when banks and other essential services are closing down in market towns across the region because of the switch to online services. Were the Royal Mail to suggest that it will simply abandon any attempt to deliver letters to eight per cent of customers, those affected would be up in arms and rightly so.

The Government has committed itself to a £1bn broadband infrastructure deal, but all the evidence from rural areas of Yorkshire and elsewhere suggests that it is simply not doing enough to ensure that remote communities have at least the prospect of coverage in the near future.

It is clear from the latest findings presented to MPs that the state has to intervene, perhaps in providing subsidies to help customers in hard-to-reach areas to connect via satellite. For certainly, the previous approach of relying on BT to lead the way in connecting remote, rural districts is not working.

As with the postal service, there is simply not the commercial incentive for private firms to install broadband to serve all of rural Britain. But if business is to thrive in these more remote areas without 
wi-fi and so on, it is essential that a universal service is provided. It is time for the Government to step in to ensure that this happens as soon as possible.

Council challenges

Time to think outside the box

TOWN HALLS should not be exempt from the spending squeeze, despite the protestations of Labour leaders from across the region. As Kris Hopkins, the Local Government Minister and Keighley MP, told Parliament yesterday, England’s councils still have £114bn – around a quarter of all public spending – at their disposal this year.

Many will agree with the Minister’s decision to ask town halls to make efficiency savings of 1.8 per cent while also freezing council tax bills. It is because of the financial indiscipline of the last Labour government that town halls are having to make difficult decisions about the services to prioritise – or not.

Yet, given that the budgets of many authorities are greater than the turnover of some of Yorkshire’s most successful companies, it is right that councils are challenged to move with the times and be more dynamic rather than simply blaming the coalition for their predicament.

Though the Government could, and should, have done more to recognise the increased financial demands being placed on local authorities because of spiralling care costs, this should not preclude councils from thinking outside the proverbial box.

Take libraries. Though many have closed because of cuts, there is the potential to transform them into community hubs with coffee shops and wi-fi access. They shouldn’t be stuck in a time-warp simply dispensing books. If better use can be made of these facilities, the opportunity should be taken. After all, the status quo is only likely to lead to more branch closures in the future. Is that really what families

and taxpayers want?

In a tight spot

Parking poser for stressed drivers

IS new technology becoming an obstacle to drivers when it comes to parking? This appears to be the case judging by those motorists who responded to a new survey – nearly one in five admitted to getting in, or out, of a tight corner by asking an acquaintance to park their vehicle for them.

In many respects, parking has never been easier. New cars are fitted with electronic sensors, and gadgets, that would not look out of place on Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One car. There should not be any excuses for bad parking – or able-limbed drivers selfishly hogging a space that has been set aside for disabled drivers.

Yet these devices, together with the advent of the sat-nav which has left motorists with a much diminished sense of direction, offer no substitute for basic roadcraft – and protocols set out in the Highway Code.

For, if drivers had more confidence in their own abilities, they wouldn’t become so hot under the collar when it comes to parking.