Levelling-up plan looks to bring Silicon Valley to Solihull – but broadband ambitions now delayed by five years

Document pledges that three designated ‘innovation centres’ will learn from models of major US tech hubs and universities

The city of San Jose is often dubbed the ‘capital of Silicon Valley’   Credit: the_tahoe_guy/CC BY 2.0

The government is looking to replicate the “Silicon Valley model” in three new designated areas of the UK.

The government white paper for levelling up launched this week revealed that tens of millions of pounds of financial backing will be committed to supporting research and development in three designated areas: Glasgow; Manchester; and the West Midlands. The plan is to learn from the major tech hubs of the US and foster collaboration between education institutions and private companies in the regions.

“These clusters of innovation will see local businesses and researchers in these areas backed by £100m of new government funding to turbo-charge local growth, learning from the MIT-Greater Boston and Stanford-Silicon Valley models,” the white paper said.

The document contains 12 “missions” covering employment, research and innovation, transport, connectivity, education, home ownership and life expectancy.

One mission is to ensure that, by 2030, the UK “will have nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with 5G coverage for the majority of the population”.

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This target marks a delay of five years on the plans set out in the Conservative 2019 election manifesto, which pledged that, if elected, the party would “bring full-fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025”.

This ambition for universal coverage – which represented an acceleration of eight years on the government’s previous target of 2033 – was scaled back in the 2020 spending review, when the target was revised to 85% of the country by 2025.

At that point, about 27% of buildings in the UK had a gigabit-capable connection. This had risen to 46% by September 2021, according to data from telecoms regulator Ofcom.

Alongside the broadband pledge, other missions put forward in the levelling-up plan include improving “local public transport connectivity across the country [to] be significantly closer to the standards of London” and increasing by 200,000 the number of “people successfully completing high-quality skills training” each year.

“The missions will be underpinned by a suite of public metrics to track progress and monitor the evolution of spatial disparities,” the white paper said. “The government will legislate such that it has a statutory duty to publish an annual report updating the public on the progress of these missions.”

It added: “Other parts of the ‘system change’ include: all policy across Whitehall being aligned with the levelling up agenda and therefore subject to spatial analysis, and a transformation of the government’s approach to data and evaluation – with a new independent body created to improve transparency of local government performance.”


Sam Trendall

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