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Towns invited to bid for connectivity boost

Some 100 places in England are eligible to get resources from the £3.6bn fund aimed at creating local jobs and economic growth, with broadband as a key priority

The government has invited 100 places across England to develop proposals to get resources from the £3.6bn Towns Fund, which will see improvements in connectivity as a key priority.

Aimed at creating local jobs and economic growth and promoting regeneration, the Towns Fund was announced by prime minister Boris Johnson in July 2019. This week’s Spending Round set aside £241m of that package to support towns in 2020-21.

One of the pillars of the Town Deals will be aimed at improving connectivity, described by Johnson as one of the “basic ingredients for success for the UK” as the nation leaves the European Union.

The list of places that are eligible for the programme, which will provide up to £25m for each town, includes 45 locations in the north of England and 30 in the Midlands.

Towns including Blackpool, Colchester, Loughborough, Milton Keynes, Wolverhampton, Scarborough, Northampton, Doncaster and St Ives in Cornwall are all included in the initial group of places that can submit proposals.

A prospectus will soon be published to guide towns through the process and set eligibility criteria for funding.

Enhanced connectivity pledges made by the PM in July to support the Town Deals include an increased investment in fibre roll-out – this, Johnson said, builds on the development of a fibre cable between Manchester and York alongside the Trans-Pennine railway route.

The link, which connects the Manchester and Leeds internet exchanges, is aimed at strengthening the internet infrastructure for the north of England.

Broadband sector advocates warned the PM that the clock is ticking if he wants to achieve nationwide broadband coverage in six years, and have written an open letter to Johnson outlining actions that must be prioritised.

These include a reform of key policy areas such as introducing a mandate for full-fibre connections in all new-build homes and ramping up investment in skills to fill the many engineering jobs required to roll out full-fibre services.

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