Sunak touts gigabit broadband rollout on ‘levelling up tour’ of North Wales

22 February 2024, 00:04

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak visit to North Yorkshire. Picture: PA

New data shows 1,006,800 homes, businesses and public buildings now have high-speed internet access, according to the Government.

Rishi Sunak is heading to North Wales on Thursday where he said his Government was “breathing new life into communities” through levelling up, as it was announced that one million UK properties had been connected to high-speed broadband.

The Prime Minister will meet engineers in Anglesey working to roll out faster internet, as well as businesses and communities during his two-day tour of the region.

New data shows 1,006,800 homes, businesses and public buildings can now access gigabit broadband under the £5 billion Project Gigabit, according to the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT).

The programme to improve digital inclusion in hard-to-reach parts of the UK began in 2012.

Most of the now-upgraded premises are in rural areas that have been too difficult or expensive for broadband suppliers to include in their commercial rollout.

The department said around 80% of the UK was now covered by speedy broadband and 85% coverage would be reached by 2025.

But the 2019 Tory manifesto said “we intend to bring full-fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK” by that date.

Growth in coverage in Wales over the past year has been among the fastest in the UK, the Government said, with nearly 70% of Welsh premises accessing a gigabit-capable connection.

Mr Sunak said: “Levelling up is about providing people with better opportunities to work, travel and feel proud of where they live.

“Upgrading one million premises with high-speed gigabit broadband is part of our long-term plan to deliver a brighter future by connecting people, businesses and regions across the entire United Kingdom.

“We’re breathing new life into communities across North Wales through greater connectivity, a brand new freeport, more cash for high streets and a £1 billion investment into North Wales rail.”

The Prime Minister visited the new Anglesey freeport last year, which he said would attract over a billion in investment and create thousands of jobs.

The electrification of the North Wales Main Line is being funded with £1 billion, while £20 million from the latest round of the levelling up fund will go towards regenerating town centres and developing areas in Denbighshire in north-east Wales.

Rishi Sunak visit to Anglesey
Rishi Sunak, centre, and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, left, visited the new Anglesey freeport last year (Peter Byrne/PA)

Mr Sunak’s visit to the region is part of what Downing Street has dubbed a “levelling-up tour” as he seeks to underscore his commitment to the flagship policy to reduce regional inequalities – a key plank of the Tory party’s 2019 winning election campaign.

It comes after two influential think tanks last autumn questioned his Government’s efforts to reduce disparities across the country.

The Institute for Government said the machinery of central Government was not set up to deliver the promise of levelling up, while the Resolution Foundation said there was a lack of “seriousness” about the scale of the challenge.

As he gears up for the general election and his party languishes in the polls, Mr Sunak frequently attacks the performance of what he calls “Labour-run Wales”.

On Wednesday, he warned that the Welsh Government’s new farm subsidy scheme would “decimate farming communities” there.

Labour has long led the devolved government in the nation of three million people.

Labour’s shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens said: “Rishi Sunak will arrive in Anglesey to find that 14 years of Conservative government has delivered one of the worst coverage levels for gigabit internet, and speeds almost half the UK average.

“Wales continues to be an afterthought for the Conservatives. Only Labour will govern in the interest of the whole United Kingdom.”

By Press Association

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