Super boost for Devon and Somerset businesses

 £8m additional funding for ultrafast broadband in the region predicted to deliver £160m of economic growth

High growth sectors, small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) business parks, rural businesses and residential and commercial developments in Devon and Somerset are set to receive a major boost after the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced as part of the Budget that the Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) broadband roll out programme, will receive an extra £4m of funding.

The additional funds, which will be matched by the private sector to generate around £8m will be used to deliver ultrafast broadband speeds of up a minimum of 100 Mbps to at least 4,000 premises as part of the 2nd phase of the CDS programme, which will eventually see the roll out of broadband across the final 10% of the region.

The funding follows a successful bid by the CDS programme. CDS will now put together a detailed business plan.

The CDS bid focussed the funding need on key business locations, SMEs, high growth sectors, housing and new employment locations in order to drive up economic growth. Key growth sectors such as aerospace, low carbon energy, marine, creative industries and advanced engineering are all in line to benefit from the additional funding.

As part of the bid process, CDS undertook its own Ultrafast Broadband survey amongst businesses in the region and 72% said their companies would be interested in signing up whilst a further 16% said they would, depending on the cost.

Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, Cabinet Member for economy and growth for Devon County Council said: “This will accelerate broadband roll out across the region and ensure we hit the 95% national target by the end of 2017. It represents a significant boost to our regional economy once implemented through supporting the growth ambitions of companies already located in the region as well as inward investors looking to relocate to the region.”

Councillor David Hall, Somerset County Council’s Cabinet Member for business inward investment and policy, added: “This is a real vote of confidence from government on CDS’s ability to deliver. Phase 1 is progressing extremely well with 80% coverage already delivered and it’s achieving real benefits for our communities and businesses. High speed and highly reliable connectivity is critical to the long term wellbeing of the region, both in attracting people to live and employers to locate in the area. The project will support the farming and land based industries, which play a key role in our regional economy. The extra investment will also form part of our drive to support broadband competition and consumer choice.”

Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership Chair Steve Hindley said: “We are delighted that the Chancellor has shown extra confidence in the Heart of the South West and our potential to deliver transformational growth.

“We welcome the extra ultrafast funding which will particularly focus on high growth sectors and SMEs and drive economic development to support job creation, boosting those businesses already in the region as well potential new investors.

“Additional connectivity for broadband is crucial to our success in generating growth and enabling companies to operate efficiently across the whole of the HotSW area and compete at a national and global level.”

Nick Sturge, Chairman of the South West region of the Institute of Directors said: “It is good to see that businesses in Devon and Somerset will be a significant beneficiary of the additional investment in the region’s communications infrastructure. As an organisation we have been campaigning government to put a more ambitious broadband strategy in place.

“It is critical that our digital infrastructure supports the massive data demands of future consumers and businesses so today’s announcement is a significant step in the right direction. Our research shows that businesses will benefit from improved productivity and competitiveness as well as helping to attract and retain talent.”

Deborah Waddell, Regional Director of the CBI, commented: “High quality digital connectivity is as crucial to growth in our region as other infrastructure such as roads, railways and airports. Therefore, this is good news for businesses in the region and the economic prospect of the South West region as a whole.”

The boost comes just as the 2nd phase of the CDS programme is about to get underway with the roll out of the superfast programme across the National Parks. Due to be completed at the end of this year, 12 months ahead of the Government’s target of 95% coverage by the end of 2017, it will connect 5,800 homes, farms and businesses across Exmoor and Dartmoor using wireless broadband technology. Airband, a specialist in high speed wireless broadband for rural areas, is delivering the £4.6m scheme in the National Parks.