One of the things that is raised with me, in every part of the Lancaster and Fleetwood constituency, but particularly in rural areas and Over Wyre, is the frustrations many people have with unreliable or non-existent broadband access. The importance of broadband to households and businesses cannot be overestimated. In this day and age many deem it as essential as water, gas or electricity.
Where broadband access is poor it holds back our communities economically and socially. Many of you may not know that 4% of Lancaster and Fleetwood constituency experiences slow connections of less than 2 Mb/s, which is a percentage above the national average.
Since May I have been made aware of the importance of good, reliable broadband by local people in both the rural and urban parts of my constituency. It’s important because in a growing digital economy, it is access to good and reliable broadband which can ‘make or break’ a new business start-up. It’s also important for families as more and more schools are setting homework to be submitted online. And in an age of Netflix, iPlayer and Skype many people are feeling cut off by a lack of reliable broadband.
It would be remiss of me to not mention the farming community. This month I have met with local members of the National Farmers Union who shared with me many frustrations including broadband. The new Basic Payment Scheme, which was intended to be fully digitally administered and processed online, has caused great frustration and expense to farmers without broadband provision. And when HMRC expect tax returns and PAYE to be completed online, farmers and rural communities are being excluded from this service. With government services increasingly being offered exclusively online the government needs to address this disenfranchisement of communities.
According to research by the Countryside Alliance, rolling out high speed broadband across the whole of the UK is the technological improvement that the British public most widely believe will impact positively on the UK economy. Yet 56% of rural people feel the Government is not doing enough to ensure it happens.
I doubt anyone hasn’t heard of the group of my local people, fed up with the poor service, who set up their own company – Broadband for the Rural North. B4RN are digging their own trenches and laying their own cables they’ve achieved eye-watering speeds of up to 1000 Mb/s. No doubt some of the fastest internet speeds – not just in rural Britain, but also far faster than any urban service I’ve seen too!
Reliable broadband access is essential for competitive and successful enterprises in a growing digital economy. When 12% of GDP is generated online we are significantly ahead of other countries, but it is vital that the UK has access to effective and affordable broadband if we are to maintain this lead.
In Westminster I am working with cross-party groups on MPs campaigning for more action to ensure the whole country is online. I have spoken a couple of times in debates with the Minister responsible and will continue to fight for this important infrastructure. If you’ve had any experiences with BT Openreach or another provider that you want to share with me I would be interested to hear from you.
Police Cuts in Lancashire
I have had issues of anti-social behaviour and crime raised with me as I’ve been out and about Over Wyre and so I was very concerned when I have received news from Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Clive Grunshaw, that policing in Lancashire faces an additional cut of 13.5% in its grant.
If these cuts are implemented we could see the Lancashire force reduced from 3,611 officers in 2010 to 1,699 by 2020. This will wipe out Lancashire Police’s specialist and neighbourhood teams and mean their vital work protecting children from sexual exploitation, tackling crime and anti-social behaviour and even tackling major crime will be at risk.
I’m shocked by the scale of these government cuts - the service would be unrecognisable compared to the service provided today. I have written to the Policing Minister and secured a meeting with him to discuss this and I will be asking for a reconsideration and will be working with our Police and Crime Commissioner opposing these dangerous cuts.