Budget 2020: Chancellor Pledges £30 Billion Package Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has unveiled a budget that promises to open the spending taps to bolster the economy and steer the UK through the coronavirus outbreak.

The budget, which comes just after the Bank of England announced an emergency cut in interest rates, sets aside £30 billion for spending on a number of areas.

Among the highlights are the suspension of business rates for many firms in England, the extension of sick pay, and also a boost for NHS funding.

Broadband pledges

But the chancellor also announced more than £600bn for road, rail, housing and broadband projects over five years.

Indeed, the budget announcement will see broadband in remote areas boosted across the UK, and comes after broadband improvements were first promised in the Conservative manifesto in December.

Later that month on the back of Boris Johnson and the Conservatives thumping general election win, the Queen’s speech pledged to make it cheaper and quicker to telecom firms to gain access rights (to blocks of flats, buildings etc), even if a landlord fails to respond to repeated requests for access.

All new home being built will be required to have full fibre connections (instead of last mile copper connections), and £5 billion has been already been pledged aims ensure FTTP reaches even in hard to reach rural locations.

Boris Johnson has previously been outspoken about the need for the UK to accelerate the deployment of superfast fibre broadband across the UK, after he previously called for the technology to be made available to “every home in the land” within five years.

Prior to that, the government had set a goal of 2033 for the rollout of fibre to all premises, a target Johnson had previously called “laughably unambitious”.

Before the general election, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party had pledged to nationalise BT’s fixed-line network – a policy that Johnson had called a ‘crackpot’ idea.

Gigabit broadband

But now the Conservative government is pledging to bring full fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business in the UK in the next five years.

This latest investment is to be allocated for households in the hardest-to-reach areas of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

And the pledge drew instant reaction from industry specialists.

“Today’s budget sees £5 billion to be invested to upgrade broadband connectivity in remote areas,” said Mike Smith MD at Virgin Media Business.

“This news is significant for organisations of all sizes across the UK,” said Smith. “Since 2008 there has been a 74 percent rise in remote working in the UK. It gives employees flexibility and, to an extent, freedom. And for businesses, more flexible, more empowered people, means increased productivity.”

“The benefits of remote working go beyond functional productivity; just 29 percent of employees are happy with the technology they use at work,” said Smith. “To let staff transform their kitchens or lounge into a state-of-the-art office, the right foundations need to be in place.”

“It’s encouraging to see such a cash injection into connectivity because these systems are easy to set up once the underlying systems are in place,” said Smith. “By getting the networks right, and selecting the most appropriate suite of software, a richer working culture is unlocked for employees. It allows organisations to make the most from remote working, adjusting easily to unpredictable change.”

Another expert pointed out that digital exclusion is one of the great social challenges of our age.

QAccording to data from Ofcom and Office of National Statistics data, 11.3 million people (17 percent of the UK population) lack the basic digital skills needed to access the internet,” explained Steve Thorn, executive director (Digital) at Civica.

“The most vulnerable groups are those who are on lower incomes, those who are living in rural areas or dealing with health issues, and older people,” said Thorn. “Today’s budget announcement, which included government plans to invest £5bn to accelerate the delivery gigabit capable broadband is positive to hear.”

“The mission to eradicate digital exclusion will be complex, but it’s not unachievable,” he said. “Much needs to be done to address the root causes of this ‘digital divide.’

Earlier this week mobile operators and the government agreed a plan to eliminate mobile not-spots in rural areas.

The Government and the big four mobile operators have pledged £1 billion to create the ‘Shared Rural Network’ (SRN).

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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