The Northern Powerhouse will only be able to compete on an international level if significant investment to improve the region’s infrastructure is secured, according to a panel of technology experts.
Speaking at the Second UK Northern Powerhouse International Conference & Exhibition in Manchester, Mark Collins, Director of Strategy at CityFibre, said a digital structure needs to be the backbone to the UK’s industrial strategy: ‘In light of Brexit it is more important than ever we improve not just the way we connect physically in the UK, but how we can connect digitally to the wider world.’
‘Improving connectivity in the North is not just about transport, digital infrastructure links everything. Improved digital connectivity will allow businesses in the Northern Powerhouse to innovate and become competitive on a global stage.’
‘Digital investment can also be delivered far quicker than HS2 or a new tunnel, which will take 10-15 years to build, and it costs significantly less. To put fibre optic connections in every premises in the UK, both business and home, it would cost £15bn. In my view this is a far better investment than spending £50bn on HS2.’
Roy Grant, Head of Super Connected Cities, City of York Council agreed digital connectivity was a ‘key part of the jigsaw’, while Joanne Thompson, Chief Executive Officer at Penrillian Ltd, said it was vital to ensure digital investment ran alongside, and was delivered at the same time as, an improved transport system.
The UK currently lags behind other nations with two per cent of GDP spent on digital infrastructure, while other nations spend between six and eight per cent. Mark Collins explained ‘Spain has 83% of all of its premises connected to end-to-end pure fibre-optic connectivity - it is future proof. In comparison the UK has 3%. So it is vital we catch up, and the Northern Powerhouse has a real opportunity to take the lead by supporting and embracing infrastructure projects, such as the current digital initiative in York. If we continue investing in the North it has the ability to leapfrog above other parts of the UK.’
He added ‘The Government committed £1.5bn of funding in the Autumn Statement to encourage private sector investment in the area and there is a real opportunity for Northern Powerhouse to consider how they might take advantage of that funding and encourage a greater degree of investment from the private sector.’
The panel agreed that there was still no clear plan in place, and that a Northern digital task force was needed to drive the region’s vision forward.