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'Shoddy' government lacks ambition in digital policy

Tuesday, November 11th 2014 by Ellen Branagh

The government is being “shoddy” in its approach to providing the broadband infrastructure that will help it become the top global digital nation, according to a member of the Labour Party’s digital advisory group.

George Bevis, who co-ordinates Labour Digital, a network of 300 digital professionals supporting the Labour Party, said not enough is being done by the current government to make Britain a leading digital nation.

Labour Digital previously released a report outlining 82 recommendations to transform the UK into the world’s leading digital economy and society.

Speaking to Cable.co.uk, Mr Bevis said not enough is being done by the current government.

He said: “We think the current government are being shoddy in their approach to answering this key question of how does the UK get to having the infrastructure that supports us being the top digital nation in the world.

“You cannot read any current government document and come away from it with the view that they have set that as their vision and they’re clearly going to achieve it, and here’s five things that will make it happen.

“Rather those documents read as, ‘we’re starting from our current position, what’s the minimum amount of stuff we feel we have a high likelihood of achieving in the next two years’, and that’s just not ambitious enough.”

One of the 82 recommendations in Labour Digital’s Number One in Digital report is nationwide access to 1Gbps broadband in homes, businesses and public buildings.

Mr Bevis said: “There’s lots of politicians who hitherto have talked about the UK being ‘a leader’ in digital and we think it’s okay but it’s not ambitious enough.

“There is an opportunity in the next few years for ‘a digital nation’ – it could be the US, it could be Israel, it could be South Korea – to become quite dominant.

“And we think that’s what Britain should be shooting for, so it should be looking to be ‘the’ digital leader rather than ‘a’ digital leader.

“And it’s in that context that we think that an investment in making 1Gbps broadband universal is the right thing to do.

“The country that wins this global battle to be the most dominant player on the internet is not going to be a country that underestimated in its broadband infrastructure.”

Mr Bevis’s comments come after deputy labour leader Harriet Harman accused the government of ignoring people’s concerns over internet connectivity.

She accused culture and digital economy minister Ed Vaizey of “coasting” and said he was in denial over the success of government projects to expand mobile and broadband availability.

The government has championed its rollout of superfast broadband across the nation, aiming to give 95% of homes access to speeds of more than 24Mbps by 2017, and universal access to standard broadband with a speed of at least 2Mbps.

Mr Bevis said the digital issue will be “critical and defining” for the next government, but people are less focused on digital policy than other issues like immigration.

He said: “What’s tough for citizens is that widespread availability of high quality broadband will change their lives in lots and lots of medium-sized way and very few massive ways.

“It’s not easy for a citizen to see that broadband will lift their average income by x-thousands of pounds in the next few years, even though that may well be true.

“So because of that, yes, we are way off citizens embracing this set of topics with the passion that perhaps it deserves.”

But he said effects such as the impact on jobs would mean that the effects would be obvious to many people within five years, leading to digital becoming an important part of politics.

A DCMS spokesperson said: “Government is investing £1.7bn to transform the digital landscape of the UK and we are already ahead of the top five European economies for broadband coverage, speed, choice and price.

"We are turning more than 1,000 public buildings in cities across the UK into free wifi hotspots, and thousands of businesses are already benefiting from grants we introduced to ensure they are equipped for the digital age.”

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