Newcastle to go digital with £9m government fund

The North Eastern city will benefit from superfast broadband, free Wi-Fi and a cloud computing centre

Government funding is set to boost the digital economy in Newcastle, with plans being announced today for a number of new technology projects.

The ‘Go Digital Newcastle’ scheme will be run by the City Council and aims to bring in an extra £150m through the creation of new jobs and the improvement of operations for existing businesses.

A total of £9m will be put towards the project, which promises to bring superfast fibre broadband access to 97% of residents and companies in Newcastle by 2015, as well as offer a free Wi-Fi network across the main footfall areas of the City Centre, and possibly on the Metro system.

Council leader Nick Forbes said: “Superfast broadband can help turn local heroes into superheroes – our city-based businesses can use the faster speeds to reach new markets and products and compete on both a national and international scale.

“The economic benefits to the city will be significant and further cement Newcastle’s reputation as an exciting place to live and work.”

A cloud-innovation centre will also be opened in partnership with Newcastle University to teach local firms about cloud-computing solutions and enable them to take advantage of their test environment.

The government business connection voucher scheme – offering SMEs and social enterprises up to £3,000 to get high speed internet – will also be made available, alongside a new business support programme, giving advice to companies trying to build a digital presence and offering masterclasses on the likes of website development, search engine optimisation and social media engagement. Funding could also be available of up to £2,000 to get projects kickstarted.

Communications minister Ed Vaizey also praised the project, adding: “The UK already does more business online than any other European country and government’s investment in super-connected cities, like Newcastle, will provide a welcome boost to the local economy.”

The superfast broadband roll-out will be funded by the Rural Broadband Programme, the City Council, the government and BT. The Wi-Fi and cloud-computing centre will be funded by the government’s Super Connected Cities Programme.

However, the business support programme will be paid for by joint funding from the council and the European Regional Development Fund.

Councillor Forbes added: “This initiative means Newcastle will be one of the best-connected cities in the UK, which gives our local economy huge advantages when it comes to competitiveness and attracting business.”

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