BUSINESS leaders in Essex are calling on the council to keep pace with neighbouring counties in its bid to roll out superfast broadband.

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Essex County Council is being urged to “pick up its game” with broadband provision, especially in rural areas, to help kick start economic growth.

The calls come after Suffolk announced it is set to award a £40million contract to BT to bring broadband to all parts of the county. BT is also set to be named as the winner of a contract to provide similar services in Norfolk.

Essex County Council (ECC) “Superfast Essex Broadband” plan was approved by central Government in July and is currently asking residents to register their interest.

Areas with the most residents registered will stand a greater chance of being selected as one of the first areas for upgrade.

However, last night ECC could not reveal when a partner would be appointed to deliver the scheme.

Iain Wicks, development manager for the Essex Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Suffolk seems to be very proactive. Essex County Council needs to pick up its game and understand that businesses must have adequate broadband provision.

“We have bits and pieces over the county but it’s very disjointed and that’s the key thing they need to be leading on - linking it all up.”

His views were echoed by David Burch, director of policy at Essex Chamber of Commerce.

He said: “Broadband is essential for businesses whether they are large or small so it’s vital we get it rolled out as quickly as possible so we are urging ECC to move forward with this.

“There are companies like BT who are more than capable of delivering what ECC is looking for so quite why it’s taking so long to come forward I really don’t know.

“A lot of trade is done online and with the Government encouraging businesses to do more and more online, such as tax returns, our members would say effective broadband is essential.”

An ECC spokesman said: “Essex County Council recognises how important broadband is for the economic growth and for residents of the county. We submitted our local broadband plans prior to the deadline expiring and we are working with the Government to secure a partner to help us deliver the scheme.

“Essex, like all other local projects, have a 2015 target to deliver superfast broadband to 90% of the county with all premises receiving basic broadband service. Essex is still on course to deliver its targets.

“Our broadband survey has received 1,923 responses to date.”

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