Jonathan Oxley, chairman, Institute of Directors in Yorkshire and the Humber
I was at the Leeds Club last week to hear a keynote speech by Kevin Hollinrake, the MP for Thirsk and Malton.
The subject was Connecting Our Future, although it could also have been called “Two areas of policy where we are performing abysmally and need to take urgent action”.
The event was the fourth in the Public Square series organised by the IoD, Leeds City Council and Leeds Beckett University.
Kevin Hollinrake set the tone by reminding the audience that only two per cent of premises in the UK have an ultra-fast broadband fibre connection, ranking us 27th out of 28 European countries, including such leaders in the field as Spain and Latvia.
Citing examples of rural businesses being forced to move because of connectivity issues, he said: “Not only do we need to invest in, and connect, the great cities of the North but also our towns and villages. The issue of a connected future, including the internet of things, not only impacts on today’s communities but on future generations across Yorkshire”.
The estimated cost for moving our outdated copper wire network on to the modern standard of fibre could be as must as £25bn and that’s assuming we get on with it. There is an ongoing debate about whether BT and Openreach are able to deliver what is needed, however they are configured. BT had announced a £6bn plan to get two million premises connected by 2022, taking coverage up to – seven per cent.
It’s not enough. Dan Lewis, head of infrastructure policy at the IoD, recently said: “Our members tell us that broadband is the number one issue for them. Faster broadband would make them more productive. We have a booming digital economy but it is in spite of the network, not because of it”.
The importance is highlighted by recent political events and the nature of our region. As we go through the process of leaving the EU and establishing a new place in the world, it is less than ideal to be working off an inadequate communication infrastructure base. If one of our issues is low levels of productivity, we don’t need to look far for a major contributing factor.
We live in a region where the growth of digital businesses is exploding in our cities. We must provide the connectivity they need. Given the size of our region and the remoteness of some areas, it is critical for Yorkshire to have the very best connectivity that technology can provide.
Talk of the region as a whole brought the meeting on to a second subject that is beginning to rouse real passions and is just as important for our future: devolution. In particular, the failure of Yorkshire as a whole to get engaged with the devolution agenda as set by central government for the benefit of all of our people.
In Yorkshire we have areas with different natures, needs and priorities. Viewed from London it is a big, single block on the map and that view isn’t going to change. We need to accept that the only acceptable solution is to agree a deal across as much of Yorkshire as possible.
There is a growing clamour from businesses for a solution to be found and the IoD in the region is adding its voice to that. Until we can speak with a single voice you can be sure what we will get from Westminster - nowt.
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Notes to editors
• The Institute of Directors (IoD) was founded in 1903 and obtained a Royal Charter in 1906. The IoD is a non-party political organisation with approximately 35,000 members in the United Kingdom and overseas. Membership includes directors from right across the business spectrum – from media to manufacturing, professional services to the public and voluntary sectors. Members include CEOs of large corporations as well as entrepreneurial directors of start-up companies.
• The IoD provides an effective voice to represent the interests of its members to key opinion-formers at the highest levels. These include Government ministers and their shadows, parliamentary committee members, senior civil servants and think-tanks. IoD policies and views are actively promoted to the national, regional and trade media. Follow us on Twitter to get the IoD’s reaction on business and public policy issues.
• The IoD offers a wide range of business services which include business centre facilities, with 15 UK centres (including three in London, Reading, Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester, Nottingham, Norwich, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast) and one in Paris, conferences, networking events, virtual offices, issues-led guides and literature, as well as free access to business information and advisory services. The IoD places great emphasis on director development and has established a certified qualification for directors – Chartered Director – as well as running specific board and director-level training and individual career mentoring programmes.