Chancellor announces funding in Autumn Statement following prime minister’s criticism of existing shortcomings
HM Treasury is ready to pump more than £1 billion into the UK’s digital communications infrastructure, with three-quarters going through the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF).
The pledge is one of those announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond (pictured) in his Autumn Statement on public finances for the UK.
It is accompanied by other measures related to the use of digital technology in public services, including signalling on railways and networks for driverless cars.
The announcement on the digital communications investment reflects continued frustrations over the roll out of high speed broadband into the more remote areas of the country. Details released by the Treasury point to the money going largely to support the extension of full fibre connections and the development of 5G mobile networks.
It says this should be to the advantage of homes and businesses and support the development of internet of things (IoT) technology in the UK.
A Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund will be set up, with £400 million of public money and plans to at least match it with private finance, to invest in fibre networks over the next four years, aimed at deploying full-fibre to millions more premises.
There will also be 100% business rates relief for full-fibre infrastructure for five years from next April, funds for local areas to invest in a fibre ‘spine’ – partly through bringing together public sector demand – and funding for a programme of integrated fibre and 5G trials. More details of the latter will become available in the 2017 Budget statement next spring.
The move follows sustained complaints that the national roll out of fibre broadband has been unacceptably slow, with many parts of the country deprived of the bandwidths for fast internet traffic. Earlier in the year the Government led by David Cameron dropped a plan for everyone in the country to have access to speeds of at least 24Mbps, but more recently Prime Minister Theresa May indicated that she regards the current situation as unacceptable.
5G world leader
In his speech, Hammond said: “Our future transport, business and lifestyle needs will require world class digital infrastructure to underpin them. So my ambition is for the UK to be a world leader in 5G.
“That means a full-fibre network; a step-change in speed, security and reliability.”
Other elements of the statement include the allocation of £450 million from the NPIF for trials of digital signalling technology on the rail network, and around £80 million to step up the implementation of smart ticketing systems.
Work on the use of autonomous and connected vehicles (CAVs), a significant element of the development of smart places, will receive a share of £390 million over the next five years.
Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0