Alongside traditional infrastructure areas such as transport, energy and housing the report includes a Digital chapter which BT was asked to contribute to. The launch took place in Liverpool alongside the world’s largest Lego bridge, built by ICE. Liverpool’s recently elected metro mayor, Steve Rotheram, welcomed it as a valuable contribution to the debate on rebalancing the UK’s economy. Ed Cox, head of think tank IPPR North, also welcomed the report’s recommendations. Copies were delivered to the North’s other metro mayors in Manchester and Tees Valley.
The North of England is home to 15.2m people and generates £290m in economic output. It has five of the UK’s largest cities and a number of world-leading universities. The North, however, is underperforming with productivity lagging the UK average by 11%, with a higher proportion of lower skilled workers (more than 50%) and 39 of the 50 most deprived areas in England are in the North. The report considers what the North should do to become a truly global-leading region, measured by economic productivity and quality of life, and looks at the strategies required for specific infrastructure sectors, including digital, to help deliver this.
BT input into the chapter on ‘Digital’ which reflects our ambition of moving from superfast to ultrafast broadband and developing 5G mobile capability. The report recognises that the wider application and effective use of digital technologies in businesses creates an agile workforce, reduces operating costs and increases productivity. It also notes that greater access to and uptake of superfast broadband by businesses will drive efficiency savings, boost economic growth in the North and help to address the regions’ productivity deficit. By developing 5G capability this will also support emerging sectors identified as key to the Northern economy.
“Digital technologies benefit both infrastructure service providers and users, enhancing the overall performance of core networks and assets.”
Simon Roberson, Regional Partnership Director for the North East, who led BT’s input to the report and attended the launch event said “I was delighted when the ICE asked me to contribute. It shows they recognise the importance of digital infrastructure to the future economy of the north alongside more traditional areas such as transport and energy. It puts digital on the agenda for planning the development of the region as the report will be shared with all key stakeholders such as Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and local Chambers of Commerce. We will use the report in discussion with our stakeholders as it reflects the contribution of BT and the Regions team to this important area of public debate.”
The report recommends that the North must acquire and maintain best in class digital infrastructure with complete geographic coverage to unlock economic growth and enhance the delivery of other infrastructure services. The report recognises the leading role of private sector investment in the digital sector, and encourages the public sector in incentivising this investment, stimulating the exploitation of digital technologies and removing barriers to deployment. The timeframe of the report is to 2033 when HS2 will be completed in the North.