The Economy and Work

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 4:00 pm on 26th May 2016.

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Photo of Craig Tracey Craig Tracey Conservative, North Warwickshire 4:00 pm, 26th May 2016

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Many of the measures in the Gracious Speech will bring benefits to North Warwickshire and Bedworth, but, in the short time available to me today, I wish to focus on the digital economy Bill. The Bill is vital, not just in my constituency, where there are large pockets of rural communities, but across the whole of the UK, if we are to maintain our position as the fifth largest global economy.

I want Britain to be at the forefront of innovation and to be a nation where technology continually transforms the economy and society, but for that we need to up our efforts in creating a world-class digital infrastructure and delivering on our manifesto commitment to roll out universal broadband. We have made great strides since 2010, when fewer than half of UK properties had access to superfast broadband. Now, 90% of households enjoy it, and that figure is set to increase to 95% by 2017. Many of the benefits are clear: better connectivity brings more choice, more opportunities and greater competition; new markets for businesses are opened up, not just within the UK or the confines of the EU, but globally and in emerging markets; and consumers are more empowered, finding it easier to access a wider range of goods and get access to their finances. But there are other, less recognised benefits that greater connectivity brings: it can help to keep families in touch, including our military based overseas; it can ease pressure on our health services; and it can combat other social issues, such as loneliness, particularly in isolated rural areas. I have long championed the case for high-speed broadband. A great example of these benefits in operation is Prezzybox, an online retail company in the village of Austrey which operates from a farm building. It is wholly reliant on the internet, but has now been able to grow to employ 25 local people, thanks to the connectivity that has been delivered.

I have two observations, however, that I would like to share with Ministers. First, there needs to be better communication with local communities, both before and after the installation of new services. I have been contacted by many constituents who were not aware of the roll-out plans in place for their area and the fact that they were soon to be connected in any case. Once the service is activated, it is vital that the next steps are strongly communicated to those who now have access. I have lost count of the number of constituents who think that once the upgraded broadband is available their speeds will automatically increase. They do not realise that they have to activate a superfast service or often that they can pick from a range of providers able to offer them that service.

My second point relates to the not spots—the 5% who by 2017 will still not have access to superfast broadband and whose number the National Farmers Union puts at 1.2 million households, and the 10% who will still not have access to mobile phone coverage. Many of these affected areas will be rural and farming communities, and I know of several areas in North Warwickshire that offer little or no coverage, and slow download speeds, often of dial-up proportions. We must do everything we can to ensure that these communities are connected as quickly as possible, so as not to be left behind by the digital revolution.

It is clear that the demand is there, so what I am urging the Government to do is act decisively and look at all the available options. In all likelihood, these remaining properties are going to be the most difficult to reach so, in the best of entrepreneurial British spirit, we may need to be creative and innovative. There are opportunities to look at alternative providers who can create separate infrastructure projects. There is the option of providing greater access to satellite provision. Importantly, we need to encourage community projects, for which there is currently no public sector funding.

In conclusion, many things in this one nation Queen’s speech will bring great benefit as they are implemented, not just to my constituents, but to the UK as a whole, The continued focus of this Government on a digital economy can leave a legacy for generations to come.