A survey conducted by the manufacturers’ organisation EEF suggests broadband connectivity will be inadequate for many companies’ future needs.
According to the survey, the UK is risking its place at the forefront on the fourth industrial revolution due to a lack of government planning for a ‘world class’ digital infrastructure.
“Manufacturers need best in class provision if Britain is to take advantage of the next industrial revolution and government cannot afford to think it is job done,” said Lee Hopley, EEF chief economist.
“While the quality of networks isn’t currently an issue, companies are paying inflated sums to have proper access and are fearful they will not have competitive access five years’ down the line,” Hopley added.
Indeed, of the 128 companies surveyed, 91% said access to the internet is as essential as electricity and water, yet companies are being charged a premium to ensure high-speed access, with 89% of large firms suggesting they pay over £5,000 to “gain proper access” to the internet.
Hopley said that to date much of the focus has been on future domestic internet access.
That is despite economic returns from better internet connectivity being higher if businesses are prioritised, she suggested.
“The government should urgently reverse this trend and come forward with concrete steps to ensure the UK has a modern business environment that enables us to outperform in the digital race.”
Alongside the survey, EEF has made a number of recommendations:
Task the National Infrastructure Commission with assessing the UK's digital infrastructure network and outline an investment path that will see the UK consistently delivering internationally competitive internet access to businesses
Launch a review of competition for business broadband, with a particularly focus on leased lines, with the aim of getting the cost to businesses falling over this Parliament
Ensure Innovate UK has the funding to work with industry to develop cluster networks of early adopters by easing the uptake of digital technologies across industrial supply chains, this should include supporting investment in physical industry 4.0 demonstrators
Be proactive in pushing for full implementation of the digital single market in goods and services across the EU to deliver benefits for UK businesses