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DEBATE

SPRING 13

and also from government.” And Pam Waddell, of Birmingham Science City, added: “If we’re really going to make a step-change in the benefit that super-fast broadband can bring, we need to set some grand challenges. Perhaps the public sector has a role to play in this. Inter-operable transport systems – what impact could superfast broadband have in that? Health systems – how could we use super-fast broadband to improve delivery of personalised healthcare?”

sector to deliver.” David Hardman agreed: “I’d add to that by saying it’s creating a canvas on which the private sector can act. You’re running a city of 1.2 million people... There has to be structure in which things are happening... a general direction... and I do not believe that can be driven from the private sector, it has to be driven from the public sector.” James McKay tried to give that intervention a measure: “The state does have a role and

The public sector can raise the agenda, get people’s imagination, and then it’s up to the private sector to deliver

Should the public sector get involved in spreading super-fast broadband? Paul Tilsley was first to answer, sticking up for the public sector. He said: “The public sector has got a unique opportunity in actually raising the agenda and getting people’s attention... If you didn’t have a typewriter in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, you went out of business; if you didn’t have a telephone in the 1950s, 60s and 70s you went out of business; if you didn’t have a fax machine in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, you went out of business. And super-fast broadband today – if you haven’t got that you are going to be out of business... The public sector can raise the agenda, get people’s imagination, and then it’s up to the private

BUSINESS QUARTER | SPRING 13

responsibility to set the framework within which market forces operate and, as a council, we try to ensure that framework is the most positive for economic growth here in Birmingham. The intervention always has to be at the minimum possible level, but always to achieve the maximum possible goals.” And Phil Extance added: “It’s about stimulating demand and getting people to want services... The public sector can’t afford the infrastructure but what it needs to be doing is waking up businesses to want to use it. What’s the first killer application that makes people wake up and want to be a part of it? That’s where young people come in. Is there a public sector intervention around the

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placement of young people who’ve actually got the skills into businesses that don’t have the skills?” But Simon Jenner continued with his strong thoughts on unnecessary public intervention. He said: “I think it should be a public-private led agenda, not just a public-led agenda. Maybe the LEP will provide that. My concern is that where intervention is done, typically it slows down the process. We could have been the first city in the country to have 4G; we are now probably going to be one of the last, because of intervention. And I worry with broadband, potentially with intervention, we’ll do the same to ourselves. “Let’s not get the public sector involved in it because you will kill it, you will absolutely kill any entrepreneurial spirit this city has by getting the public sector involved. You should support it and enable it, not own it.” Alastair MacColl argued that businesses needed stimulation. He said: “If you’re going to maximise the potential of this new technology you can’t have a laissez faire attitude towards it. You have to try to do something to make sure businesses know it’s available, understand it and act on the potential. If we took the same sort of laissez faire approach with something like export, it would be irresponsible. “By encouraging businesses to take advantage of what’s there, it can only result in jobs and prosperity and growth. I think how you do that has to be thought through very carefully so you don’t stifle the private sector and innovation. But I do think there’s a role for government, and for the business community

BQ WEST MIDLANDS issue 1  
BQ WEST MIDLANDS issue 1