East Anglia: Minister acknowledges broadband priority

GOVERNMENT Minister Mark Prisk acknowledged the issues of good broadband was “a crucial one” in counties such as Suffolk as he met with members of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) for the first time yesterday to talk about local priorities for growth.

Mr Prisk, the MP for Hertford and Stortford and a Minister at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, met with the LEP delegation at the Salthouse Harbour Hotel on Ipswich Waterfront. Business leaders have been fighting hard to get broadband improvements for the county through the I’m Backing Better Broadband for Suffolk campaign

In a roundtable discussion, he discussed with businesses how to drive growth locally, particularly through the energy and tourism sectors.

“Instead of having large regional quangos driven by what happens in Whitehall, we are forming LEPs,” he said.

“In the past, Cambridge and Suffolk were all lumped together with Hertfordshire and it has been one size fits all but the priorities here are very different to the priorities in Watford.”

�550million had been set aside by Government for ‘plugging gaps’ in broadband delivery where commercial bodies won’t take it on “so we can actually help areas like Suffolk, Norfolk and so on where you have got areas that are isolated and link them up to the internet”, he said.

“What you guys have to do is to decide how you roll that out,” he said.

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The Government would be giving out funding ‘tranches’ to successful bidders and was inviting bids for broadband improvements from counties across the UK, he said.

“What we are intending to do is enable them to put together a bid in a way that works for them,” he said. “They may say actually what we need at the moment is a �5million tranche to get us to the next step.”

The Government was also inviting LEPs to put forward bids for creating enterprise zones, he said. Eleven of the 21 zones, which will benefit from superfast broadband connections among other things, have already been announced.

“We want this area to grow,” he said.

Getting rid of red tape barriers is one of the ways the Government is hoping to help businesses achieve that, he said. A ‘rebalancing’ will be needed in towns such as Ipswich, where there are currently a large number of public sector workers, he acknowledged.

“The regional development agencies spent �19billion in 11 years to close the gap between the south east and the north and the gap got bigger,” he said.