More than 40,000 small businesses helped by broadband scheme, government says
A broadband voucher scheme to help deliver ‘super connected cities’ is today hailed a success after a “huge surge in demand”. More than 40,000 smaller companies have been helped by the scheme which offers grants of up to £3,000 to install superfast connections, the government says.
But firms are being warned that “time is running out” to take advantage of the initiative, with more than 1000 applications flooding in each week.
Ed Vaizey, the digital economy minister, said: “Our offer to small businesses has been a tremendous success and is proving incredibly popular. More than 40,000 UK businesses have already taken up our offer which is aimed at boosting both their broadband speeds as well as their bottom line.
“Businesses need to act now to ensure they don’t miss out on this fantastic offer and I’m urging all eligible businesses to apply now before it’s too late.”
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) released a league table of the cities where most vouchers have been handed out, topped by London (11,664). The next biggest totals are in Manchester (4,163), Leeds-Bradford (4,016), Birmingham (2,494), Belfast (1,610), Cardiff (1,470), Liverpool (1,345), Bristol (1,217), Coventry (1,141) and Newcastle (1,077).
A total of £40m has been set aside in 2015-16 for vouchers, which are being issued on a “first come, first served” basis – rather than allocated amounts for each of 50 eligible cities.
Among the businesses helped so far are architects, estate agents, mechanics, events coordinators cafes, graphic designers and caterers, DCMS said.
The scheme offers help with installation costs, with firms also able to join forces to apply to connect bigger or more complicated premises. Once installed, the businesses pay the line rental and VAT.
The figure of 40,000 companies which have benefited is a big increase on the total of just 5,000 given in last year’s autumn statement. That led Labour to claim the flagship scheme was in trouble and allege that ministers were “trying to trick the public”.
The Super Connected Cities Programme (SCCP) was originally promised £150m, including plans for Wi-Fi hot spots in public buildings such as libraries, museums and on some public transport.
But the focus appears to have switched to the fixed-line voucher scheme for businesses, with the number of eligible cities more than doubled earlier this year.