As I write this article the COVID-19 vaccine programme is well underway – we are making fantastic progress and there is real light at the end of the tunnel. It is also important to say that, alongside the monumental effort across many departments to tackle COVID-19, the Government continues to work on tackling many of the ‘day to day’ issues that impact on people’s lives here in Northumberland.
Just before Christmas I met with the government Digital Minister, Matt Warman MP, to continue to push the case for gigabit capable broadband for Darras Hall. This follows a brilliant local campaign by Simon Tappin and all the members of the Darras Hall Community Fibre Scheme, who are seeking to improve the poor broadband that some areas of Darras Hall continue to suffer. Despite the Minister confirming that unfortunately Darras Hall is not currently eligible for the voucher scheme being offered to rural areas, as Darras Hall does not qualify as rural, he did set out options for the future which could address this long running problem.
In a follow up letter to the meeting, the Minister confirmed to me that the Government wants all areas of the country to have access to gigabit-capable broadband and is working with industry to target a minimum of 85% coverage by 2025. To achieve this, the Government is removing barriers to deployment, helping to speed up commercial build, and is investing an extra £5 billion to subsidise deployment in the hardest to reach 20% of the country. With this funding, the Government is looking to maximise build to premises without an existing superfast connection wherever possible which, in Darras Hall, is around 15% of premises.
The Minister stated that ‘It is possible that Darras Hall will be connected through the procurements we are intending to run as part of our £5 billion UK Gigabit Programme. He continued: ‘I welcome the collaboration between Northumberland County Council and my officials to date, and would be keen for the collaboration to continue, including exploring lessons learned from previous deployments including hubs and vouchers in the region.’
I welcome this confirmation from the Minister that the Government is committed to rolling out gigabit broadband right across our region, and the prospect of local investment through the £5BN Gigabit Programme. My hope is that all our efforts – particularly that of Simon, the local community in Darras Hall and Northumberland County Council - will deliver a much-improved service soon.
MP for Hexham