David Laws 2016.JPG

The Need for Speed

Monday, February 20, 2017

Attending the recent launch of a new 40,000 sq ft Grade A office building I wondered if the developer’s speech would mention the level of data connectivity benefitting this prestigious new addition to the Manchester market.

As usual, much emphasis was given to the proximity of the immediate road, rail and air networks but no mention was made of the issue which concerns occupiers most – digital connectivity, fibre capacity and resilience. Why?

A couple of days later a very clever colleague regaled me with a vision of how technology has and will impact our workplace – be it the ‘Internet of Things’ or, Smart Buildings which behave like living organisms and control their own internal temperatures, lighting, recycling … oh the list went on.

That afternoon I went to see a client who bemoaned the fact that his broadband speed was so slow, it was starting to have a real impact on his business.

The truth is we are faced with a conundrum. A business world that is increasingly reliant upon ‘always on’ connectivity, and a digital infrastructure that in many parts of the UK is not fit for purpose.

Personally, I really buy into the stories of a brave new tomorrow, where ergonomics, efficiency, job satisfaction, optimum occupancy strategies, happy teams and smiling FDs all come together…. thanks to technology. But, I meet businesses, sole traders, consultants etc who live in a world which has a worse broadband performance than countries like Romania.

So if the Government is really serious about having a meaningful dialogue with the business community to determine a post-industrial strategy, I urge them to start with the ‘basics’ – give us a digital delivery model which liberates and removes the shackles on the countless wealth creators … be they in Cornwall or Carlisle, the Midlands or Midhurst.

The current digital delivery model is failing – why do businesses in places like Lithuania, Latvia and Bulgaria enjoy faster download speeds than their peers in the UK? If we are serious about being a global trader, then we need a new model.

What role will the new generation of metro mayors have in this … collectively and individually. Is this on their agenda.

Who has the foresight to develop a strategy which will remove the digital shackles and allow our businesses to operate and compete more effectively on the national and international stage free from the handcuffs of BT Openreach, et al.

Mrs May, you need to deliver on your promise when you said "This active government will build on Britain's strategic strengths and tackle our underlying weaknesses, like low productivity." The truth is digital connectivity could be the most potent weapon in your armoury.