ONS Stats Show Increase in Spend on Broadband Infrastructure, but Small Businesses Still Suffering
- The latest ONS statistics on Construction Output show a growing spend on infrastructure in quarter three of 2020
- The pandemic has sparked activity in both public and private sectors to improve connectivity across rural locations of all four devolved nations
- Small businesses in rural areas can still benefit from government schemes - for the business and its home-working employees
The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) construction output figures were released on 12th November, showing a positive investment level - since the dramatic drop during the first lockdown. Aside from home and commercial construction, one section of the report focuses on spending on infrastructure.
In the Queen’s speech last year, bolstered with government support, it announced that the target was to provide gigabit broadband to the whole of the UK by 2025. The announcement launched a countrywide public and private investment boom, which gained momentum from March but has been hampered by the pandemic. However, infrastructure spending jumped 17% between quarter two and three, bringing output back in line with the same time in 2019, circa £2.05bn.
James Tilbury, Managing Director at IT consultancy ILUX, says: “It is interesting to see the conversations that have happened since the election, at the beginning of this year and continuing now. For a country of our financial standing, it is evident that we are so behind many countries when it comes to broadband infrastructure. Never has this been more evident than since lockdown with businesses forced to work from home – and continue to be under the varying restrictions. For small businesses, this has been costly, not only with technology but for more rural business owners, the cost of the loss of productivity has been huge due to lagging connections.”
For many years, the government has provided support for rural SMEs via the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme. The scheme, launched by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, offers vouchers to install gigabit broadband connections to rural areas. The voucher scheme offers SMEs (defined as up to 249 employees) up to £3,500 to arrange for an upgrade from a range of private companies approved for the upgrades. Also, up to £1,500 is available for households to provide connectivity options for rural homes too.
“I haven’t heard much about the scheme lately, then in September came an announcement that the government will inject £22 million into the scheme. We provide support services to SMEs, and we have seen first-hand the frustrations of trying to run a business in such rural areas, so the impact of being forced to work from home has only amplified the need for upgraded infrastructure and improved accessibility.”
Applying for the government scheme will assist the government in their plans and provide upgrades to whole communities through grants. Small businesses that may now wish to utilise a flexible working solution for their employees should be looking into the grants for their business and their employees. Both can find out more on the government website: www.gigabitvoucher.culture.gov.uk.
IT support company ILUX will be hosting a schedule of IT Support panel discussions, live online from December.