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March 4, 2016updated 05 Sep 2016 7:42am

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn slams UK broadband infrastructure and pledges government intervention

News: Corbyn's speech to the British Chambers of Commerce advocates backing fibre as part of wider investment in infrastructure.

By Alexander Sword

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has issued a damning criticism of the UK’s broadband infrastructure and pledged more investment if he becomes Prime Minister.

At a speech to the British Chambers of Commerce, Corbyn said that the digital and communications market "is simply not working" under the Conservative Government.

He said that this was holding back businesses from being able to expand, especially in rural areas, and said that the only remedy was state intervention.

"The evidence is clear that only the public sector and public investment can guarantee the super-fast broadband network in every part of Britain the essential low-cost connections people and businesses need in a 21st century economy," Corbyn told the audience.

While the proposed policy was not laid out in detail, Corbyn emphasised fibre-optic broadband as a key area.

These comments echo those of Shadow Digital Minister Chi Onwurah, who told CBR last year that opposite number Ed Vaizey was "letting the country down" and that her party would invest in fibre-to-the-home.

"As it is, government foot-dragging and ideological dithering is holding digital Britain back," said Corbyn.

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The promised investment in communications comes alongside a pledge to invest in the UK’s other infrastructure, including ports, roads and airports, as the Labour leader cited figures from the Centre for Economics and Business ranking the UK thirteenth on the value of its instructure "behind every other G7 country bar Canada."

The championing of a government role in investing in digital infrastructure represents Corbyn’s plan to apply left-wing economic ideas of state involvement in the economy to the modern age; in November Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell labelled this policy ‘socialism with an iPad’.

The Conservatives have not shied away from investment in the UK’s digital infrastructure. The Government’s preferred method for doing this is in partnership with private sector organisations.

The Government has supported the Super Connected Cities voucher scheme which has subsidised provision of broadband to small businesses.

It has also invested millions through the Superfast Broadband programme, which aims to bring speeds of 24 Mbps to 95 percent of UK premises and speeds of at least 2 Mbps universally.

Corbyn however claims that his party would invest more; Labour would commit to spending at least 3.5 percent of GDP in infrastructure investment "while the Tories will spend less than half that", according to the Labour leader.

The riposte from the Conservatives would be that there is not the money to do so, which has long been a point of difference between the two parties. Corbyn said in his speech that "borrowing to invest in infrastructure makes economic sense", while Conservative Chancellor George Osborne has committed to eliminating government borrowing for both day-to-day government spending and investment.

Stakeholders will be scrutinising Osborne’s budget on 16 March, the first in the wake of the publishing of Ofcom’s Digital Communications report, in which he may announce funding for the broadband sector.

 

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