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ARTICLE: What Levelling Up Means for Digital

The UK government has iterated its commitment to levelling up across the whole of the UK to ensure that no community is left behind, particularly as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. To this end, the Government’s levelling up white paper details its plans to address long-standing social and economic inequalities across the country including addressing disparities in fixed and mobile coverage. This article assesses the case for levelling up and how local authorities can use this as an opportunity to enhance investment in digital, creating smarter connected places.

Fibre investment in the North

If you have been following the UK telecoms market, you will know that the last few years has witnessed a significant boom and intensity in fibre investment activity.

CityFibre is one of the largest and well-known 'alternative' fibre investors in the UK and CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch recently emphasised the disruptor’s commitment to the North at industry event Connected North.

CityFibre’s rollout plans show that they plan to invest in 105 locations in Scotland and the North of England. This compares to 162 locations across the Midlands and the South immediately illustrating the north / south divide, although this does not take account of investment commitments.

However, the world does not revolve around CityFibre. There are some 100 fibre operators investing in fibre networks across the UK, not forgetting incumbents Openreach and Virgin Media O2, so we should look at the data.

Data shows there is a north / south divide

Data shows that the average fibre availability in Scotland is just under 28% with the highest availability in Aberdeen City at 66.1%.

In contrast, the average fibre availability in England is higher at just under 31% with the highest availability in Kingston upon Hull at 99.7% because of KCOM’s 10-year fibre investment programme. Of the top 10 areas with the highest fibre availability, only three are in the North. The remaining seven are in the south of which four are in London.

There is a need to level up digital infrastructure, particularly in Scotland

This broad-level analysis shows there definitely is a north/south divide, and there is a need to level up fibre investment in the North, particularly in Scotland.

There is a mixed bag when it comes to 5G

5G coverage data shows that four out of ten cities with the greatest 5G coverage are in the North of England with close to 50% coverage.

However Scottish cities Glasgow and Edinburgh have on average less 5G coverage than their English counterparts.

This reinforces the case to level up digital investment in Scotland which seems underrepresented.

We will be updating both our fibre and 5G trackers with the latest data over summer so keep a look out for this.

Digital and levelling up

The Government’s levelling up white paper commits it to have nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with 5G coverage for most of the population by 2030.

The Levelling Up Fund is designed to invest in infrastructure that improves everyday life across the UK. The GBP 4.8 billion fund will support town centre and high street regeneration, local transport projects, and cultural and heritage assets.

Intelligens Consulting has delivered over GBP 150 million in fibre investment resulting in over GBP 2 billion in economic impact, levelling up local authorities that are left behind

Intelligens Consulting has helped local authorities deliver over GBP 150 million investment in full fibre connectivity to accelerate the rollout of fibre connectivity enabling them to compete on a level playing field with more fortunate parts of the UK.

This investment in fibre is resulting in over GBP 2 billion in economic impact, changing the lives of societies vulnerable people and those living and working in rural areas.

Although there are separate competitions to support investment in 5G and gigabit connectivity the levelling up fund still provides an opportunity to unlock private investment in fibre and 5G, to drive real change in towns and cities across the UK.

For example, we recently supported one local authority to kick start their visitor economy through the development of 5G enabled AR/VR connected tourism. Not only will this protect their culture and heritage, but it will contribute to the regeneration of the town centre, making it fit for the future.

The application window for the second round of the levelling up fund has now opened as announced in the 2022 Spring Statement.

How We Can Help

Intelligens Consulting has advised multiple local authorities to unlock hundreds of millions of pounds of private investment in fibre, 5G and IoT networks at zero cost to the taxpayer resulting in GBP billions in economic impact and creating smarter connected places.

Our team of technology, strategy, economic, procurement and finance experts can also provide strategic, technical and procurement support, research and economic analysis and we can support levelling up funding applications and business cases and source private financiers to release additional investment in digital infrastructure.

Please contact us should you wish to learn more about how we can work with you or if you want to discuss anything else discussed in this article.

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