Chancellor Sajid Javid is expected to share details of the Conservative Party’s “Infrastructure Revolution” plans, which will include measures to improve broadband coverage across the UK.
This work will be bankrolled by a £5bn investment commitment that Javid is expected to announce later today during his speech at the annual Conservative Party conference, which is taking place this week in Manchester.
Speaking to Sky News ahead of his conference speech later this afternoon (30 September), he said the main thrust of the investment will be ploughed into improving broadband, full-fibre and 5G coverage across the whole of the UK, with particular emphasis on rural areas.
“What I’m specifically focusing on today is the hardest-to-reach parts of the country,” he said during the broadcast. “Some of the … more rural areas and trying to make sure that no-one in the country is left out. [We] want to level up and make sure that everyone gets the benefit of new, modern infrastructure.”
The speech will take place during the “Building the Infrastructure Britain Needs” part of the conference, where the government is also expected to share details of its overall £25bn infrastructure delivery plan, which will also fund improvements to the UK’s road and bus networks.
“The government is going to build Britain’s future, and bring in a new infrastructure revolution,” Javid will say, according to advance remarks shared with the press ahead of his speech.
“Infrastructure is the foundation of everything. It’s the new road that connects local communities, the bus you need to get to school, and the broadband that helps your business trade around the world. The full benefits of the infrastructure revolution may not be felt for some time, but the work must start here and now.”
While Javid is on course to go into greater detail about the Conservative Party’s “infrastructure revolution” during his conference speech, the plans have already drawn criticism from the opposition parties.
However, Tom Watson MP, the Labour Party’s shadow digital, culture, media and sports secretary, claims the broadband portion of the announcement “falls far short” in delivering the level of connectivity the UK economy needs.
“At a time when the UK is falling behind in the digital race and hundreds of thousands of premises don’t even have access to decent broadband, this government announcement falls far short of the ambition we need,” he said.
“Connectivity will underpin the jobs and economy of the future, but today the UK’s digital infrastructure is lagging embarrassingly behind. This Tory government cannot just paper over the cracks.
“If we want to take full advantage of the fourth industrial revolution, we need far more than this government’s half measures,” he added.
The broadband funding commitment comes several months on from a pledge made by prime minister Boris Johnson during his leadership campaign that full-fibre broadband would be made available nationwide by 2025, instead of the original 2033 delivery date.
The networking community has been broadly supportive of Johnson’s aims and ambitions on this front, although many have cautioned that delivering on his 2025 deadline date will require widescale reform of the tax and building policy, as well as a much bigger engineering talent tool.
On that point, the Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA) claims Javid’s £5bn investment was estimated using the original 2033 target, putting the goverment under even more pressure to push through regulatory and policy changes to support its accelerated delivery timeline.
“Considering this level of funding has not taken into account the new 2025 ambition, this puts an even stronger emphasis for the government to now combine this funding with urgent regulatory reform to the sector,” said ISPA, in a statement. “This increased funding can be spent far more efficiently if the government also considered immediate reform to the fibre tax and to bring in wayleaves legislation.
“Without these regulatory changes there will still be the same barriers that are already preventing industry from accelerating the rollout of full fibre and gigabit capable broadband,” the statement added.