Sharpening the 'V'
Accelerating Economic Recovery in the Covid Era Through Connectivity Actions
Iqbal Singh Bedi and Gordon Welsh
Zoom! An unremarked irony of the Coronavirus pandemic is that Zoom has become its defining term at the very moment that the world has stopped. Yet this highlights how critical connectivity has become: without the working from home, online transactions and banking, social connections, information and entertainment the pandemic’s impact would have been far greater. Connectivity has been a front-line ally in combating the virus’s effects and deserves greater recognition for this.
Hopefully, our present will soon be past raising the question: if connectivity has been critical in mitigating ill effects has it a role in generating a swifter recovery? The potential prize is immense as a quicker recovery can save jobs, lower public debt by billions and, critically, show firms and households that there is hope, vital to fresh investment and growth. Speed of action is important and must also be seen to avoid hysteresis, where weakness becomes persistent, as indebted firms abandon investment, lose competitiveness and workers’ skills erode.
The ultimate infrastructural goals are well understood: pervasive fibre married with a 5G framework resulting in future smart cities. Delivering this requires major investment which is properly progressed through a competition and regulation framework, complemented by fair procurement or an intervention where public funds address a market failure.
Having advised clients in the private and public sector on digital infrastructure investments Intelligens Consulting knows that creating such intervention strategies to drive investment in fibre and 5G can take many years to be considered ‘shovel ready’; and by this stage end users still haven’t been connected nor have they directly benefited. What this means is that an intervention based on the approach of the past will hold back short term economic recovery.
Accelerating the Economic Benefits
The challenge is then how the roll out of fibre and 5G might be accelerated to bring the economic benefits forward. There are a number of ways this can be achieved. Foremost is ‘Barrier Busting’, as championed by Glasgow City Council. Our familiarity with Glasgow’s digital programme has given us unique insight into the difference that barrier busting can make in shortening timescales and de-risking investment. Glasgow is solving now the generic and localised planning procedures, business processes, market interfaces, regulatory and other issues that will otherwise be ‘sand in the gears’ halting the roll out of fibre, 5G and smart cities.
The supply chain can be invigorated by this, creating new growth and also supporting other firms and economic activity generally through knock-on effects and multipliers. Delivery of improved connectivity then unleashes opportunity and innovation, while also mitigating effects from the virus. ‘Greener’ ways of working can be encouraged and environmental benefit shared.
All this should be done with an emphasis on supporting those facing greater challenge and the more vulnerable, delivering fairness alongside growth. A well connected world will be different; this is the chance to ensure it is a better one, for all, as well.
Recovery that is Faster, Better, Stronger, Fairer
Planning now that enables recovery to be as sharp as the decline – producing a ‘v’ shaped recession - can pay for itself thousands of times over, make investment more achievable and avoid saddling future generations with an onerous debt burden.
Action now is thus imperative. But who will take up the challenge?