Yesterday I gave a cautious welcome to the announcement of the BDUK funding for Local Authorities. Almost immediately I received an e-mail from a conspiracy theorist pointing out that there was a missing £100 million, between the headline £530 million and the amounts announced for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I think he wanted an examination of the cost of running BDUK itself lest it be vanishing in consultancy, co-ordination and procurement overheads.
Today we had the announcement of the next round of Enterprise Zones, each of which is to have superfast broadband by 2015. Are these connections to be funded from the BDUK allocations announced last week or are they to be funded from the £100 million that has not yet been allocated?
Either way this poses a problem for those City Centres, like Manchester, Birmingham or many of the Inner London Boroughs, which do not have superfast broadband except for those businesses willing and able to pay for leased lines.
Will they be able to bid for the European money due to be made available later this year or will the inner city jobs haemorrhage accelerate?
We need to put Broadband into the context of the need for an integrated policy for investment-led economic recovery. Hence the logic of the Information Society Alliance – EURIM policy studies. The Enterprise Zones are a good idea, although it would have been better if HMG had listened to, for example, Pfizer before it took the decision to leave Sandwich after nearly a decade of agonising. But they are not enough.
We need to spread the approach to every town and city with a University or FE College capable of acting as a local support base for reskilling the workforce with the skills of the future – at all levels from support technician to graduate designers and developers and post graduate researchers.
We also need to extend high speed broadband to give access to world-class learning programmes from rural homes and workshops: akin to the programmes for car mechanics in the isolated communities of the US Mid-West to do degrees in mechanical engineering (orginally moderated from the University of Cambridge in an early example of mutually beneficial global outreach) which helped the University of Pheonix become the largest for-profit University in the World.