The Countryside Alliance has called on the Treasury to guarantee funding to deliver the Universal Service Obligation for broadband and ring-fence funds for the Government’s commitment to provide full-fibre broadband coverage across all of the UK by 2033.
Countryside Alliance Chief Executive, Tim Bonner, and representatives from other organisations met the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Rt Hon Liz Truss MP, on Thursday 18 October to discuss rural funding priorities.
The meeting took place ahead of the Budget at the end of October which will set out the Government’s tax and spending commitments for the year ahead, and the Spending Review in spring 2019 which will set out government department spending.
The Government announced at the beginning of the year that they would push ahead with plans to introduce a Universal Service Obligation for broadband, giving people a legal right to access minimum broadband speeds, similar to the legal requirement for a telephone connection. The Government’s revamped Industrial Strategy sets out the changes that are needed to give the majority of the population access to 5G, connect 15 million premises to full-fibre broadband by 2025, and provide full-fibre broadband to the house coverage across the UK by 2033.
Tim urged the Chief Secretary to ensure funding was in place to deliver these commitments as the Chancellor and Treasury team consider future spending commitments.
A recent survey of over 1,000 Countryside Alliance members and supporters showed that 70 per cent of respondents felt digital infrastructure was the most important issue in relation to the rural economy followed by the provision of services.
Tim commented: “While the Treasury always receives competing requests for money, the need to deliver high speed broadband to every home in the UK should be a top priority. Lack of digital connectivity is still a problem for too many people in the country, and it is predominantly people in rural areas who are suffering. More and more of the economic and social life of the country is moving online and access to broadband is essential to tackle the digital divide between town and country.
“We are grateful that the Chief Secretary took the time to discuss these matters and are confident that they will be included in the Government’s future spending commitments.”