Broadband Rollout: Devon and Somerset

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:11 pm on 2nd December 2020.

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Photo of Matt Warman Matt Warman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 5:11 pm, 2nd December 2020

I thank my hon. Friend Neil Parish for securing this debate; I do not think that anyone has ever tried to duff up the Government in such a good-natured way. That spirit was shared by all hon. Members, for better or worse.

I have had these conversations with all hon. Members present and other MPs across Devon and Somerset, because broadband now matters more than any other utility. Over the last year or so, we have learned how important digital connectivity is. It is not that useful for me to talk about how extensive the superfast programme has been or how 96% of the country is covered, because if people do not have it, they do not have it. I understand why hon. Members want to go back with good answers to parents trying to educate their children and to farmers trying to deal with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—a whole host of people from every aspect of society. Digital is what we now rely on, and what we will continue to rely on for economic growth and for essential parts of everyday life.

I completely understand why the debacle of the 13% of houses that Connecting Devon and Somerset has not managed to get connected is important to all hon. Members present. As my hon. Friend David Warburton generously pointed out, 87% of the programme has been delivered, but the fact remains that not far off 50,000 premises will be, at worst, nearly five years late. For what it is worth, I am sorry. It is important that, whether we blame Carillion for letting down Gigaclear, or Gigaclear for overpromising, the Government are sorry that we are in this position. That is an important starting point.