Broadband and mobile Businesses, schools and households in rural areas have fallen behind in the great broadband race. In 2010, 11% of rural households had no broadband and 12% only had access to slow broadband. Commentators argue that the rural economy is being held back because of this. The Government has pledged to make the UK the superfast broadband capital of Europe by 2015. To enable rural communities to keep up in this race, two funds, the Rural Broadband Programme and the Rural Community Broadband Fund have been set up offering around £550 million between them. Local authorities can also seek funding though the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). In addition to this, the Government has committed to invest the £300million it will be paid by the BBC over 2 years from 2015 to rural broadband development. Whilst the amount of money available and Government plans for it are welcomed, there are concerns about the time it is taking for proposals to move forward and questions as to whether 2Mbps should be a minimum when there are often so many devices vying for connectivity per household3. One obstacle faced by rural communities is that they must provide upfront funding before any roll out or improvements can occur, whereas urban areas have funding provided throughout the process. Not only is less than 2% of Government spending for rural broadband being allocated to rolling out superfast broadband, but rural communities have to contribute half of the funding. The Report’s Recommendations 2Mbps must be the absolute minimum available to rural communities. The Government should support communities developing their own broadband. The Government should publicise how many households and businesses are not going to be covered by the roll – out of 2Mbps broadband under the Rural Broadband Programme. The Rural Community Broadband Fund should do more to help communities and not just act as a cost recovery after installation. More Rural Development Programme funding should go to this. Empowering communities and the Rural Communities Policy Unit There have been lots of initiatives aimed at giving communities more power over their futures4 . The most popular amongst rural communities so far are Neighbourhood Planning and Community Right to Bid. One of the most significant sources of funding will be the new Rural Development Programme for 2014-20205 . The Rural Communities Policy Unit is the lead rural policy function within Government, ‘championing rural issues across Government’, and replacing the Commission for Rural Communities. The report is concerned that some of the work it does on ensuring that the rural impacts of policies have been properly considered by policy makers has not been adequate enough. The Report’s Recommendations All policies should be subject to rural proofing. Defra should look to review rural proofing annually to ensure it is as up-to-date as possible. RCPU should expand its structured relationships with rural agencies.
Head of Management 01798 345999 rupert.clark @smithsgore.co.uk
Head of Consultancy 01387 274382 matthew.currie @smithsgore.co.uk
David Fursdon Senior Consultant and Chair of the Future of Farming Review 01823 446985 david.fursdon @smithsgore.co.uk
3 In the June 2013 Spending review, the Government scrapped its promise to deliver 2Mbs broadband to 90% of premises by 2015. They now plan to roll out 2Mbps to 95% of premises by 2017. Funding for the delivery plan has also been reduced by £50million to £250million. 4 The Localism Act introduced Neighbourhood Planning, Community Right to Build, Community Right to Bid and Community Right to Challenge. There have also been new planning rules, including the National Planning Policy Framework and changes to permitted development rights. 5 Funding under this programme has been cut to £3.7billion compared with £3.9billion in the previous programme.
Published on Aug 16, 2013