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London sapping broadband funding from rest of south-east England - campaigners

Tuesday, December 23rd 2014 by Ellen Branagh

The south-east of England often misses out on investment and connectivity because of the focus on London, according to campaigners.

Simon Brookes, founder of a new network to support independent video game developers (indies), said people often assume the whole of the south-east benefits from the same investment and infrastructure, including broadband, just because the capital does.

Speaking to Cable.co.uk, he said: “Because London’s in the south-east we often get overlooked in a sense, because people say, ‘oh the south-east, everything’s great isn’t it? You’ve got amazing internet connections, there’s shed-loads of money flying around’.

“The reality is, if you step not too far outside of London there are areas within the south-east region that are the same as any other region that might be looked at as impoverished in a way.

“A lot of regions, for example the north-west and the north-east, have had lots of funding from the government and various other bodies in the past because they’ve looked at them as areas that need that extra level of support.

“One of my gripes is that we’re no different from that. Portsmouth isn’t a great deal different from Plymouth and the south-west gets lots of this sort of funding to try and get these things going.”

Mr Brookes, course leader for the computer games enterprise degree at the University of Portsmouth, co-founded the Southern Independent Games Network (SIGN), a collaboration between Bournemouth, Southampton Solent, and Portsmouth universities.

The network is hoped to become a hub for development and growth, and to encourage support and funding.

'Income deprived'

Mr Brookes’ comments were backed by members of rural network Actions with Communities in Rural England (ACRE).

Keith Harrison, chief executive of Action with Communities in Rural Kent, said getting about in rural areas could be difficult enough, let alone if travel options or connectivity are poor.

He said: “About 11% of people classed as ‘income deprived’ in England live in rural areas – but that figure is almost 22% in Kent, and we have one of the largest rural populations in the country (over 400,000 people).”

Mr Harrison added: “Rural broadband infrastructure is being improved greatly in many areas, but there isn’t much rurally-focused investment currently being targeted at giving people the skills or tools to make the most of it.

“We know of pockets of excellent practice by rural communities across Kent, using broadband to improve social inclusion levels, the running of local services, getting people economically active, reducing food waste etc, but we don’t have the resources to network these effectively so that everyone has a chance of benefitting.”

Jeremy Leggett, chief executive of fellow ACRE network member Action in Rural Sussex, said the south-east is polarised, with “great wealth and influence living alongside minimal services and poverty”, and if the majority of an area are commuting into London, then the services in that area may not be there.

He said: “Opportunity is not easy to access as it is in London and the polarisation is, I suspect, much more a part of the fabric of the south-east than it is in other more distant rural areas.

“If 60% of a parish is relatively well off, commuting to well paid jobs, retired on a good company or civil service pension, for example, then the services that the remaining 40% need to rely on, such as village shops, affordable broadband, GP surgeries and social housing, will not be there.”

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