It’s hard to deny any business bigger than a lemonade stand requires some investing in digital connectivity. Whether it is marketing on social media, bookmaking with electronic software, hosting video-conferences or enabling employees to work remotely, it’s hard to picture a business even surviving – let alone thriving – without fast broadband.
This year’s Spring Budget unveiled a commitment to building an infrastructure that can support these entrepreneurial companies. A connected Britain is a productive Britain, and as working practices change, it’s no longer enough merely to ensure our biggest cities are well connected. With over 4.2m people in the UK now working from home on a regular basis, or 13.7 per cent of the workforce, we need advancements in towns and villages across the country too.
The chancellor began to address this by investing in digital connectivity – to the tune of £200m for local projects that will help accelerate the delivery of full-fibre broadband networks. This is welcome news for small businesses. Decentralising the investment will foster a greater number of creative ideas and solutions –and help keep costs low at the same time.
By investing in digital connectivity by means of local networks, the government is ensuring the economic benefits will be felt by all. Research in the Heart of Home Business Britain report shows SMEs and home businesses flourish in regions where the traditional economy is less strong. Developing our digital infrastructure will enable the UK as a whole to become more competitive.
Also included in the budget was the re-introduction of broadband connection vouchers for businesses. The last scheme, which ran from 2013 to 2015, issued 55,000 vouchers and the government can look to increase the number that benefit this time with a coordinated marketing campaign that ensures entrepreneurs across the country are aware of the offer.
Another important element of connectivity is mobile data speeds. The UK is the fourth most prepared country in the world to go cashless, according to the recent Citi Digital Money Index, but most businesses that take card payments have experienced the frustration of a slow mobile network at some point.
The government’s 5G strategy is a first step towards addressing this. The telecoms industry spent £2.3bn on 4G just three years ago, and since 5G will require reworking the existing network, managing this transition may pose a political challenge for the government. Nevertheless, the benefits of higher mobile data speeds, as with the full-fibre broadband roll-out, easily outweigh the costs.
Home businesses alone contributed an estimated £212bn to the UK economy in 2016, with one in 11 workers running a home business. Technology has enabled people to run a successful business from the kitchen table, to work from home, from a café or even in a local park. Working 9 to 5 with a long commute just doesn’t appeal or just isn’t possible for some, making flexibility increasingly important. These changes to working habits are global, and will only increase over time. It’s vital that our economy is ready for the future world of work, and improving our digital infrastructure is the first step.
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