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Digital Strategy is potential boost for Cumbria

Rob Johnston
Rob Johnston

[A]n end to Cumbria’s erratic mobile phone coverage and gaps in high-speed broadband provision is in sight at last.

The Government’s Digital Strategy, launched by Culture Secretary Karen Bradley last week, promises major enhancements in telecoms infrastructure.

One plank is a ‘universal service obligation’ for high-speed broadband.

By 2020, every individual and business will have the right to request an affordable high-speed broadband connection of at least 10Mbps, wherever they are.

Rob Johnston, chief executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said: “We think it will work rather like the universal service obligation that applies to the Royal Mail, which has to deliver post to a remote Cumbrian farmhouse for the same price as it would deliver a letter in central London.”

He also welcomed a pledge that 98 per cent of the UK land mass will have a 4G mobile signal by the end of 2017.

The strategy promises to provide free training for adults in England who lack basic digital skills, just as there is free help for those who can’t read or struggle with basic maths.

Mr Johnston said: “We thank that’s right because digital skills are vital. The report says that, within 20 years, 90 per cent of all jobs will require some element of digital skills – and my hunch is that it will be even more than that.”

The strategy aims to help businesses make the most of digital technology – as a minimum that they have a web site, sell online, use the cloud and digitise functions such as payroll.

Mr Johnston added: “It’s surprising how far we still have to go in that respect. Only 22 per cent of SMEs engage in e-commerce for example, and only a quarter of businesses use software and apps for accounting.”

But it is the pledge to boost 4G coverage from 72 per cent of the UK last year to 98 per cent by the end of 2017 that will have the biggest impact in Cumbria.

Michael Bell, managing director of baker Bell’s of Lazonby, said: “We have customers who visit our site and they can’t get a mobile phone signal.

“That’s embarrassing and needs sorting out.”

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