Hammond promises broadband millions in Autumn Statement

CHANCELLOR Philip Hammond will promise to invest hundreds of millions of pounds into improving broadbands speeds as part of a package of investment in infrastructure.
Philip Hammond will promise new money for broadbandPhilip Hammond will promise new money for broadband
Philip Hammond will promise new money for broadband

Mr Hammond will earmark £400m of taxpayers’ money for a new fund that, matched with private sector contributions, will provide £1bn to help upgrade Britain’s broadband.

The measure will be pitched by the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement tomorrow as evidence of the Government’s commitment to making Britain ready for its post-Brexit future.

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But critics will point to the shortcomings of existing plans for broadband rollout and the many communities, particularly in rural areas, that suffer from low broadband speeds and poor reliability.

Mr Hammond is expected to say the new fund will help give 2m more homes and business access to “full fibre” broadband which can provide speeds of more than one gigabit per second.

The vast majority of the broadband network currently relies on a mix of fibre optic and copper cables which limits the speeds which can be achieved.

Mr Hammond will launch the Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund to stop Britain falling behind its rivals in the rollout of full fibre broadband networks.

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Money from the fund will also be used to trial the next generation of mobile technology known as 5G.

However, the announcement is likely to prompt criticism that the Government is investing in faster broadband speeds for a small number of homes and businesses when large numbers still struggle to access the most basic service.

A string of reports have criticised the way the Government has approached rollout of superfast broadband.

MPs on the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee last year complained that while the Government is on track to meet its target of 95 per cent of homes and broadband having superfast broadband by 2017, efforts had been focused on “easier to reach” premises.

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It said a “patchwork of premises” had been left behind uncertain when access would reach them.

Concerns have been raised at the domination of BT in the market for taxpayer-funded contracts to rollout broadband networks.

Campaigners have also argued that the figures on access to broadband do not take into account the reliability of the connection.

The promise of extra money for broadband will be accompanied by £1.3bn of spending on roads as Mr Hammond makes the case for spending on infrastructure to strengthen Britain’s economy.

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The Autumn Statement is also being seen as a test of the Chancellor’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse concept championed by his predecessor as a way of closing the North-South economic divide.

In a report out today, the IPPR North thinktank suggests Government investment in life sciences and health research as part of efforts to grow the North economy..

More than 600,000 people across the North are employed in health and life science which produces research benefitting health and the economy but the report warns the sector is heavily reliant on EU funding which will disappear with Brexit.

Luke Raikes, senior research fellow at IPPR North, said: “The health sciences sector is a true northern asset. Its innovation will help close the North-South health gap and grow the northern economy. This is even more important as we move toward Brexit.

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“The government should take note of the level of private sector investment in the North, and use a fifth of its research pot to give the North the catch-up cash it needs.

“The government must also put this sector at the heart of its economic plans – through its new industrial strategy and in trading our pharmaceuticals and medical technologies in the world.”