Opinion: Louise Haigh MP, Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy

farm lifeBroadband

I will admit it may not be every day in the farmer’s markets, auctions, and local NFU meetings of rural Britain that you hear a Labour voice.


And I have to confess that growing up in Sheffield, my only regular interaction with livestock was at the City Farm set in the heart of the constituency I now represent; and even then I was safely stationed behind a fence.


But an unlikely coalition of urban coffee shop owners, business park entrepreneurs and rural farmers are uniting across the UK, ever more frustrated by slow broadband and a Government without the will to bring us up-to-speed.


Now, new research by the independent House of Commons Library has revealed the extent of the problem. Just 59 per cent of rural Britain has access to superfast speeds and an utterly shocking 40 per cent in rural hamlets do not even have access to bare basic broadband.


In my city of Sheffield, an urban centre, superfast access is by no means universal. In fact, we have the poorest availability of any major city in the UK.


So we need action because whether it is in the heart of Sheffield or the North York Moors, slow broadband has the same chilling effect on business.


How exactly can farmers diversify, as the Government is constantly encouraging, when your access to the internet is at best slow and on bad days non-existent? How can you be expected to set up and promote a farm shop, sell your products online, and run a small business?


It is just not good enough; and as Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy, I am fighting to bring the benefits of a connected economy to every corner of Britain.


That is why Labour has fought and won an amendment to legislation currently going through the House of Lords which will guarantee access to superfast broadband for all.


If you request it, you will have a legal right to receive it: 400,000 small businesses and more than one million homes will benefit, many of them in rural Britain.


In my view, if it is good enough for Soho Village in central London, it should be good enough for the thousands of towns and villages currently left behind.


Regrettably, the Tories is so far refusing to support our amendment.


But if you agree everyone should have access to superfast internet, then I strongly encourage you to write to your local MP and write to my opposite number the Digital Economy Minister, Matt Hancock.


Ask them to back Labour’s amendment and bring your broadband speeds into the 21st Century.


It is time the Government backed our ambitious amendments; it would be a brave man to risk the wrath of the farmers of Britain.

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