UK full-fibre broadband could deliver £25bn boost to productivity

Study from Centre for Economics and Business predicts that ultrafast fibre-to-the-premises broadband could bring one million people back into the workforce through remote working

Despite concerns regarding the hardest-to-reach parts of the country, the continued pace of UK gigabit broadband roll-out has been one of the bright spots of the past twelve months.

In a time being struck by Covid, research is now predicting that the new extended gigabit infrastructure could bring up to a million people back into the workforce by supporting remote workers across the UK.

The study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), commissioned by BT broadband provision division Openreach, shows that as many as 400,000 people could return to the workforce with full-fibre availability across the UK, but that more than double that number could actually benefit from the ultrafast broadband technology.

It makes the point that the combined effects of the pandemic and a nationwide roll-out of full-fibre could also see nearly two million more people working mainly at home, compared with 2019 numbers, half a million of whom could be brought back into the workforce through enhanced connectivity. This is 850,000 more than the impact of full-fibre roll-out alone as estimated in CEBR’s previous study.

The research’s starting point was that there was already a gradual move towards home working before the outbreak of the pandemic, supported by the UK’s improving digital infrastructure and slowly changing individual and corporate attitudes towards remote working.

It added that the pandemic has accelerated the need for improved options to work from home, and that an increasingly flexible culture of remote working is becoming more established, which could have significant ramifications for the economy and wider society. Better connectivity and ultrafast broadband is the key to that flexibility, the report stated.

It calculated that this increase in participation would have a gross value-added (GVA) impact of £25bn, approximately doubling the previously estimated impact of £13bn – increasing GVA in 2025 by just over 1.3%, from a baseline forecast of £1,862bn to £1,886bn. The report also showed how a nationwide ultrafast full-fibre broadband network could boost UK productivity by up to £59bn by 2025.

CEBR updated its conclusions based on evidence around expected future levels of home working reflecting the cultural change brought about by Covid-19, together with the technological impact of nationwide full-fibre roll-out.

The research found that the increased amount of home working would drive major benefits for the environment as well. CEBR suggested improved connectivity could reduce CO2 emissions, emitted from car commuter trips, by an estimated 700,000 tonnes each year. Furthermore, 500,000 people could be supported to move from urban to more rural areas, thereby helping to stimulate regional and rural economic growth.

“CEBR’s previous research explained the economic windfall in store for the UK with a nationwide upgrade – including a £59bn boost to productivity,” said Openreach CEO Clive Selley commenting on the report.

“And this updated report highlights how full-fibre can help to level up the UK, bringing up to one million people back into the workforce. With the challenges we face as a country, this is an opportunity we can’t afford to ignore.”

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