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Business secretary Greg Clark has branded the state of the national broadband and mobile network coverage unacceptable, and called for a major infrastructure upgrade to support UK businesses better.
In a speech at the Institute of Directors (IoD) annual conference at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Clark spoke at length about the future of British business and industry, saying he wanted entrepreneurs to be valued in the same way as Olympians and Paralympians.
But there remained significant obstacles preventing British enterprises from achieving their full potential, he said.
“We have new infrastructure like Crossrail about to open, but we have roads that are bottlenecked, trains overcrowded, and broadband and mobile coverage that is simply unacceptable in 2016,” said Clark.
“I believe it is time for our country to have an upgrade – an upgrade in our infrastructure so that we have smart and modern connections, physical and electronic.”
Clark also spoke of the need to enhance education and training practice, to commit to further regeneration of old industrial towns and cities that have fallen behind, and to reinvent the relationship between government and business.
His remarks at the IoD conference reflect a government-wide ambition to revitalise industrial strategy. He said it was very obvious that different parts of the country had very different needs, but for too long government policy had treated all regions as if they were identical.
“It seems to me that helping Cornwall make the best of its future is as vital to a comprehensive national success as helping Birmingham – but what is needed in each place is different, and our strategy must reflect that,” said Clark. “Many of the policies and decisions that form our industrial strategy will not be about particular industries or sectors, but will be cross-cutting.”
Given Clark’s focus on broadband and mobile infrastructure, this cross-departmental effort will almost certainly include input from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which owns the broadband brief at Westminster.
Digital Economy Bill
Earlier this month, culture secretary Karen Bradley updated MPs on the current state of the national broadband roll-out during the second reading of the Digital Economy Bill.
Bradley noted that supporting the digital economy was core to the Conservatives’ 2015 manifesto, and said the government was working “tirelessly” to help people and businesses to benefit from digital.
“When it comes to broadband coverage, we are ahead of our major European competitors,” she said. “In 2015, the UK maintained its number one position for the widest access to superfast broadband, ahead of Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
“That connectivity drives business… The government is supporting and enabling that by providing funding through Tech City and supporting businesses through UK Trade and Investment.”