Beckie Hart of the CBI: Why Boris Johnson must honour his pledges over digital connectivity in the North

Boris Johnson must deliver on his promises to improve digital connectivity. Picture: PA
Boris Johnson must deliver on his promises to improve digital connectivity. Picture: PA
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On the campaign trail, Boris Johnson made a bold pledge to deliver full-fibre digital connections to every home in the land. .

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As the new government gets down to work, there is no time to waste in turning that rhetoric into reality for Yorkshire and the Humber.

The UK led the way in the first industrial revolution and should do the same again in the fourth. The first was driven by easy access to the energy needed to power steam engines; this industrial revolution will be underpinned by the lightning-fast connections that will transform the potential of every single home and business.

And just as the first industrial revolution powered every village, town and city in the country, the fourth must power every person.

Britain should not be a nation where your postcode determines whether you can work from home, or your business can sell online. We should be the nation where good connectivity is a reality for every person, and every new business is born digital, in all corners of the UK.

For employers, the opportunities from fast broadband are vast. Without an internet connection, your phone or your computer isn’t much more than an expensive lump of metal; with a good connection, its capabilities are mind boggling.

But this isn’t about your kettle talking to your fridge – it’s a game-changing combination of technologies.

Supermarkets can use a combination of sensors, blockchain technology, and analytics to link food right back to the farm it came from in a matter of seconds. Infrastructure providers can predict peaks and troughs in demand to ensure that people have the services they need, when they need them, and not when they don’t.

But that’s not all. Just as the technology we use in our homes and businesses is developing quickly, so too is the connectivity that underpins it. If 4G is a torch, 5G is a laser beam providing more targeted and powerful opportunities.

It has the potential to deliver not twice, not 10 times, but 100 times faster connections. Turning on the 5G tap could unleash a surge of innovations from driverless cars to automated farms. The UK should be among the front-runners in this race.

Business and the government must deliver on the vision for future technology together. The Prime Minister has signalled his ambition on digital infrastructure, but businesses must do the heavy lifting on investment, shaping the technology and bring vital delivery know-how to the party.

The revolution is happening already. KCOM is already delivering gigabit speeds to many thousands of homes in Hull and Virgin Media and Vodafone are committing to similar speeds to millions more homes by 2021.

A growing band of Alt Nets are delivering fibre in harder to reach rural areas and Openreach is accelerating its plans too.

But there is plenty more to get on with. First, fast-track legislation to mandate gigabit connectivity in all new build homes and better access to private land.

Next, help all parts of the government to pull in the same direction. Ensure that new transport infrastructure has world-class digital connectivity baked in and support industry’s Shared Rural Network proposals.

Review removing digital infrastructure investments from business rates in the next Budget.

And finally, let’s make sure we have the skills needed to get the job done. Make the apprenticeship levy work to support new skills coming into the industry and ensure our new immigration system is open to the best engineering talent from overseas.

With business and government working together in lockstep the UK will remain at the forefront of the digital revolution.