Borderlands deal must put digital first.
Plans to invest heavily in transforming the economy along the England-Scotland border will only succeed with critical improvements to digital connectivity.
The Borderlands Growth Deal will see funds devolved from the UK and Scottish governments to support economy-boosting investment in the Borderlands.
It was announced in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s 2017 Autumn Budget and will target the entire Borderlands region – encompassing Cumbria and Northumberland in England and Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders in Scotland.
Policy North believes, however, that urgent attention must be given to the area’s flagging digital infrastructure, if the ambitious plans are to be successful.
With over 75 per cent of the Borderlands considered to be rural, many parts of it are among the most remote areas of Britain.
While 85 per cent of Borderlands properties have access to 30mbps broadband, for almost a fifth of postcodes coverage is less than 70 per cent; In five per cent of them, coverage drops below 50 per cent. This means for 25 per cent of people, mere access to broadband is a key issue, with connectivity and quality issues affecting many others.
The Borderlands Growth Deal must be the catalyst to enabling everyone in the area to engage in the growing digital economy.
Investment in a hyperfast (1GB) infrastructure would tackle many of the challenges which arise in the area’s poorly connected, dispersed communities and bring many new opportunities to the Borderlands.
Greater digital infrastructure will improve productivity and innovation and enhance the reputation of the area as a place to do business for investors nationally and internationally.
The growth deal must empower the Borderlands to take full advantage of the opportunities of technology and connectivity for businesses and households. Improved broadband connectivity creates opportunities for smart solutions that facilitate and are fundamental to peoples’ everyday lives and the development of business ideas, wherever people are located.
Policy North’s recommendations were set out at the Borderlands meeting of local authority leaders and north MPs, which took place at Northumberland’s Walwick Hall hotel with Northern Powerhouse Minister, Jake Berry MP.
Other attendees included Hexham MP Guy Opperman, MP for Carlisle John Stevenson and the Duchess of Northumberland.