Roy Shelton, Group Chief Executive Officer of Connectus Business Solutions poses the question, “should we prioritise investment into digital investment in rural communities?”
The Government should put digital investment at the heart of its policies moving forward. I think there is a solid argument to make this a cross-party issue. I’d love to see the best talents brought together from all political parties and the private sector to create a team tasked to deliver a strategy allowing businesses to plan for 10 to 20 years ahead.
Digital investment should be at the heart of any Levelling-Up plans. Ensuring a business based 150 miles outside of London has the same connectivity and access to high-class tech infrastructure is the most remarkable illustration of levelling up in action.
Although there have been improvements in the UK’s digital connectivity, we can still go much further and faster. What worries me most is how those based in more remote and hard-to-reach locations are being routinely forgotten. The pandemic has changed everything. Being based in a big city is no longer critical. Work from home is here to stay, and remote/hybrid models are embedded into corporate strategies. We now need tech infrastructure to power this revolution.
Poor access to broadband and 5G in rural communities
Rural communities are among the worst hit in terms of the poorest broadband speeds and worst digital connectivity. They also suffer from really poor access to 5G and Broadband on public transport, which is often an important place for people who want to work on the move.
The benefits of getting this right are immeasurable. Improved connectivity will help drive economic growth and allow us to compete on a global scale truly.
I think we are at a tipping point in this area, and if we don’t get this right, rural-based business communities risk being left behind and isolated because they have to put up with third-rate connectivity services.
“Although there have been improvements in the UK’s digital connectivity, we can still go much further and faster. What worries me most is how those based in more remote and hard-to-reach locations are being routinely forgotten ”
Rural residents are digitally excluded from key services
Several recent reports have highlighted the challenges those living in rural or remote spots have with connectivity. And time and time again, research has indicated how those residing outside of towns and cities have to put up with third-rate services that often leave them frustrated and unable to work remotely effectively.
In January, the respected Rural Services Network released a damning report suggesting that residents of England’s small towns and villages now face being digitally excluded and locked out of critical services. They called for an urgent review into the “underinvestment in rural connectivity”, warning hundreds of thousands faced being left behind. But, unfortunately, the review has still not happened.
Connectivity issues are impacting UK food production
The National Farmers Union have also recently spoken out on the issue this year and concluded that rural connectivity issues are holding UK food production back.
Experts at Lancaster University agree, and a study released this year revealed how digital poverty now exists across North West’s rural communities, with one in four struggling to complete critical tasks online.
Yet things don’t need to be that way.
For too long, businesses in rural communities have been discriminated against based on being digitally isolated. The impact and consequences of this are severe. Many companies cannot scale their enterprises due to a lack of high-speed broadband and access to collaborative IT solutions.
Levelling up in this area matters. The rural economy is varied and reaches far beyond traditional land management industries. Rural areas can contribute to all economic sectors. Today around 28% of England’s firms are rural, contributing at least 19% of the Gross Value Added to the English economy.
These businesses need to be supported similarly to those in more urban and city centre locations. They should not have to worry about the IT requirements’ cost, reliability and security. Their connectivity should help them grow – not hold them back.