Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:41 pm on 10th July 2017.

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Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government) 9:41 pm, 10th July 2017

We have had an interesting and, at times, wide-ranging debate on this important Bill. It is good to see such interest from Government Back Benchers, but it is slightly disappointing not to hear one speech from an Opposition Back Bencher on such a critical issue across the country.

The improvement of connectivity in the digital age helps individuals in their workplaces and homes, and can transform public services and the economy. Improved connectivity will bring significant economic rewards, with research suggesting that increased broadband speeds alone could add £17 billion to UK output by 2024, which has been recognised by all Members who have spoken today. I thank the many colleagues who made such passionate contributions today, which show that we all recognise the importance of investing in our telecommunications infrastructure.

The Bill will ensure that we help to close the digital divide and get higher quality, more reliable and resilient connectivity to more households and businesses. The Bill makes the technical changes needed to introduce 100% business rates relief for five years for newly installed fibre infrastructure. The importance we place on that relief is shown by how quickly we have introduced the Bill in the Session.

The Chancellor announced at autumn statement 2016 that we would provide relief on new fibre with effect from 1 April 2017. It is therefore vital that we move quickly to reassure the sector that the relief will follow. Investment decisions have been made on the back of the Chancellor’s commitment, and it is right that we proceed with the Bill to give us the powers to deliver the promised relief.

The Bill introduces support that forms part of a wider £1 billion package of measures that the Government are putting in place to support investment in digital infrastructure, and it forms an important part of the Government’s digital strategy. As such, the Bill will help to maintain the UK’s current high ranking as an internet e-commerce economy, as well as providing significant coverage of quick, reliable broadband connections to homes across the country.

I want to mention some of the contributions made in this debate, starting with that of Andrew Gwynne. He welcomed the Bill and also made the economic case for it. I felt he acknowledged that this Government are investing in the technology of the future. He intimated that the measures in the Bill will favour larger providers, but let me reassure him that, on the contrary, the Bill actually helps the smaller providers and opens up competition. It puts those smaller providers on a more level playing field, and that view was reiterated in several contributions.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned business rate retention, and we are absolutely clear that we want local government to keep more of the taxes that it raises locally. That commitment was in our manifesto and we are looking to follow through on it.