BSG Comment: Productivity and Digital InfrastructureMatthew Evans
“Productivity is the challenge of our time” – that is the stark opening of the Government’s ‘Fixing the Foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation’ which is billed as the second half of the Budget. The plan outlines the scale of the challenge facing the UK and sets out specific measures in order to overcome it, including practical measures that should help implement its goal for a “world-class digital infrastructure in every part of the UK”.
The report clearly links productivity with living standards and outlines that France, Germany and the USA are all at least 25% more productive per hour worked. The report covers topics ranging from housing and a modern transport system to financial services and long term investment. It also recognises the key role that telecoms infrastructure plays in making the UK smarter, more efficient and ultimately more productive.
Although no new goals are set it does set out several practical measures it is exploring to allow digital infrastructure to be deployed more cheaply. The plan refers to the ongoing BDUK programme to roll-out superfast broadband (at least 24Mbit/s) across the UK and continuous commitment to reach 95% of UK premises by 2017 although no mention is made of the Government’s actions regarding the remaining 5% of premises.
As per the Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy published in March and Conservatives manifesto, the Government confirmed its ambition to “support the market to deliver near universal 4G and ultrafast (at least 100Mbit/s) broadband coverage”. The Government’s aim in reducing red tapes and barriers to investment is to deliver an “internationally competitive fixed and mobile digital communications infrastructure” that UK businesses needs to grow and to keep the UK at the forefront of the digital economy.
The Government is manifesting its support for the market in the roll-out of the fixed and mobile infrastructure by taking a number of actions:
The Government is right to recognise the scale of the challenge that it faces in driving up productivity and in acknowledging the importance of digital connectivity in helping them do so. Deploying telecoms infrastructure in the UK is still more expensive than many of our European counterparts so there is clearly a need to try to lower this cost. Not all of this cost is directly financial either. It is just as important to strive to make the planning process as efficient and predictable as possible – rightly taking into account both environment concerns as well as the importance that digital connectivity plays in people’s lives.
The BSG is already actively engaged with Government in these areas, having facilitated discussions between stakeholders on the review of the Electronic Communications Code, and by advising Government on the transposition of the EU Directive. We will also provide input on the consultation opened today concerning the proposals to extend developments rights to taller mobile masts in England.