CWU urges Nick Clegg to ‘put money where your mouth is’

The CWU welcomes Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s speech at the LSE today (Wednesday) in which he promised to give “priority status” to infrastructure projects including broadband networks in a bid to boost UK economic growth. The union, which represents workers in the telecoms and broadband industry, is now urging him to act on his words and ensure funding is available for universal superfast broadband.

Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary, said: “It’s good to see the government has woken up to something the CWU has been arguing for some time: that broadband has huge potential to revitalise the economy and that more government intervention is required to ensure that faster broadband services reach all areas of the UK. A universal superfast broadband service would allow all homes and businesses to play a full part in the digital economy, boosting jobs and growth right across the country. But this cannot happen without strong government backing.

“The government needs to put its money where its mouth is and invest sufficient sums to ensure that superfast broadband networks extend right across the country. It’s disappointing that Nick Clegg has not made any new announcement about the level of funding being made available for the nation’s broadband infrastructure.”

Andy Kerr, CWU deputy general secretary, added: “The government needs to rethink its broadband strategy to ensure its investment is used as efficiently as possible. Local community projects are already struggling and failing, so funding larger scale projects which can maximise the value of investment and avoid a patchwork of disconnected local monopolies would be more effective. Better engagement with stakeholders, including trade unions, would help the government devise a strategy and create the jobs and skills to deliver its broadband vision.

“A focus on prioritising infrastructure projects to create jobs and lift the UK’s struggling economy is positive and shows the Coalition is beginning to realise that the UK cannot simply cut its way to growth. But if the government seriously wants the best broadband network in Europe by 2015, it needs to rethink its approach to public investment and strategic planning.”

CWU and many other organisations have pointed out that the £830m currently committed until 2017 will be insufficient to take high speed broadband services to all parts of the country, especially rural and remote areas. The money committed so far pales into insignificance against the French government’s £570m a year until 2025, bringing into question Nick Clegg’s claim that the UK will have the best broadband infrastructure in Europe.

The Coalition is looking to the market to lead the way to a solution for comprehensive broadband coverage, but private sector companies have already made it clear they are not willing to invest in the sparsely populated regions without a subsidy.