Budget ignored urgent rural broadband needs, says shadow science minister

Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for innovation and science, has accused the government of ignoring the broadband needs of rural areas by focusing on funding superfast networks in cities in its budget.

Share

Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for innovation and science, has accused the government of ignoring the broadband needs of rural areas by focusing on funding superfast networks in cities in its budget.

Yesterday chancellor George Osborne announced funding of £50 million for small cities to ensure 'ultrafast' broadband in urban areas. This was in addition to £100 million for larger cities that had been announced previously.

But Onwurah believes that the real digital divide is between those who have broadband and those who do not.

"Over two million people do not have access to decent broadband, many in rural areas, many desperate to get their businesses online, or download their school assignments, or upload the files required by DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).

"That is where the real, low-hanging economic gain is to be found and the chancellor has completely ignored that opportunity, focusing instead on cities where the market will deliver and the benefits of the additional £150 million are much harder to estimate," she said.

In addition, while she welcomed the £100 million that the government announced for science capital expenditure, Onwurah pointed out that – especially compared with other countries – there was still a significant "shortfall".

"As the Campaign for Science and Engineering so politely put it, when compared against the multi-billion pound, 50 percent cut in capital expenditure that the chancellor has already implemented 'it leaves a considerable shortfall'.

"They went on to point out that other countries, including those with their own economic challenges were continuing to invest in science: "In 2012, Germany will boost federal research and education spending to £11.3 billion, an increase of 10 per cent from 2011. In China, £3.3 billion for basic research is expected in 2012, an increase of 26 per cent from 2011," she said.

Now read an in-depth view: Westminster View - Budget 2012 was a ragbag of measures that will not lift the economy