As an MP I’ve worked to support local small businesses, promoting Small Business Saturday, helping launch a new small business group in conjunction with the FSB, and running a small business survey hoping to find out how our small businesses are doing and what help they need to thrive.
A number of issues have come to my attention as part of that survey, particularly Sheffield’s worrying lack of broadband infrastructure. Of 63 towns and cities ranked by the Centre for Cities, Sheffield currently ranks just 59th, with Barnsley at 57th and Doncaster at 60th.
Only 40% of premises are covered by ultrafast broadband, artificially throttling the ability of people here to create, trade and do business. Even for businesses not heavily reliant on online sales and trade, the lack of infrastructure creates bottlenecks down the supply chain, particularly in our growing creative industries where the ability to send and receive large amounts of data quickly and reliably is paramount.
One constituent I have been working to help had his business of five people throttled by download speeds of just 1mbps, and despite promises of access to fibre, this has been delayed by at least a year and work is still not finished.
Multiply this situation by the hundreds of similar problems which will be occurring across our city and the missed economic potential starts to mount.
Even where fibre connections are available, they’re almost all of the limited Fibre to the cabinet model, which uses copper wire and throttles connections at a fast, but by no means perfect 80mbps. Fibre to the premises, which provides ultra-fast speeds of up to a gigabit per second, is available to just 3% of homes and businesses in Britain, and comes with high installation costs.
In Australia, despite their National Broadband Network scheme being heavily cut, FTTP is being rolled out to around one in five homes and businesses, for similar prices to fibre to the cabinet connections.
The fourth industrial revolution in the 21st century will rely on our digital infrastructure just as the 19th century called for railways and roads. Our businesses are the basis of so much of our future potential as a city that they can’t be left in their current state.
Digital Secretary Matt Hancock has found time to develop his own app – perhaps he could find time to focus on the digital economy of one of Britain’s biggest cities.