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Minister for culture and the digital economy Ed Vaizey is to chair a new Digital Infrastructure Implementation Taskforce to be set up by the government, with a remit to drive the roll-out of universal broadband and better mobile phone connections, and to ensure everyone is able to be a part of the digital economy.
Broadband roll-out will be high on the government’s agenda during the first half of the new parliament, because fewer than three years now remain until the original Broadband Delivery UK(BDUK) target of having 95% of UK premises connected to superfast broadband must be met.
In addition, at the end of 2014, the government secured a £5bn spending commitment from the UK’s four mobile network operators to address coverage gaps, extending reliable voice and SMS coverage to 90% of the country’s landmass by 2017.
The Digital Infrastructure Taskforce is one of a number of taskforces set up following the general election, with the intention of monitoring and driving delivery of the government’s “most important cross-cutting priorities”.
The other newly set-up taskforces will look at housing, health and social care, apprenticeships and training, immigration, childcare, religious extremism, troubled families, exports, and Syrian refugees.
They are designed to bring together key ministers and officials for regular meetings to track progress in addressing the government’s aims; spot potential problems and blockages, and agree plans to resolve them; maintain momentum and ensure accountability; and ensure that policy actions are followed through.
They will report to prime minister David Cameron and the cabinet on a regular basis, while matters requiring collective agreement will continue to be dealt with by the cabinet and its various committees.
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Also sitting on the Digital Infrastructure Taskforce will be secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs Liz Truss; chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Letwin; chief secretary to the Treasury Greg Hands; minister for the Cabinet Office and paymaster general Matt Hancock; minister for communities and local government Brandon Lewis; and parliamentary under-secretary for transport Clare Perry.
The establishment of the taskforce comes shortly after the government transferred responsibility for the Digital Economy Unit away from the joint stewardship of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and into the sole hands of DCMS.
In terms of ministerial responsibility, the unit will also continue to be led by Vaizey in his capacity as minister for the digital economy at its new home.
A spokesperson for DCMS confirmed that Vaizey “will remain a joint minister” split between BIS and DCMS, reporting into both secretary of state for culture, media and sport John Whittingdale and secretary of state of business, innovation and skills Sajid Javid. It is also expected that the Digital Economy Unit will retain “strong links” with BIS.
Vaizey was reconfirmed in his current post in May 2015 after the Conservative Party was returned to power with a workable majority in the general election, ending five years of coalition government.