UK Gov has no cash for fibre roll-out

Jeremy Hunt, the UK's Minster for Culture, Media and Sport, has outlined the way ahead for the coalition Government's vision of a super-fast broadband Britain.

In a speech delivered to business leaders at the Industry Summit, held today at the Department of Business, Industry and Skills, Hunt was bullish about the Government's plans:

"Despite the economic crisis and huge deficit, we will be pressing on to support investment in the superfast network and to bring the benefits of broadband to everyone in the country. We are dead serious about making this happen," he said.

And that was the key to it - the Goverment promises to "support investment". Not "invest" itself. For all the talk of progress, it looks like there's no extra cash on the table.

Indeed, the only cash so far earmarked for the project is the £175 million underspend from Labour's Digital Switchover fund - well short of the £2 billion cash that the boss of BT Openreach said was needed yesterday.

In a bid to win support, the minister paid tribute to the contribution already made by the UK's digital industries, which he said generated around £130 billion for British economy, and employed more than 1.7 million people - six per cent of the UK workforce.

Hunt suggested that IT was vital to any strategy intended to turn around the UK economy, having maintained an estimated annual growth of four per cent a year during the recent downturn.

The minister quoted the opinion of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), that the government's plan for universal superfast broadband - set out in today's Structural Reform Plan - would add as much as £18 billion to the UK's GDP.

What he didn't draw attention to was the fact that the 2012 target for universal broadband has been put back. The Government now intends to achieve total coverage by 2015.

And while he was forthright on the benefits of further broadband investment, Hunt was light on concrete detail. He heaped praise on BT and Virgin for their broadband investments, but all he offered in return was a relaxation of the regulatory framework.

And talk. Following the spirit of the Government's Your Freedom web site, Hunt promised further consultation.

He told business leaders at the summit: "We will be happy to listen. And we will be happy to consider the action that you want."

We'll keep you posted on that action, when - or if - it happens.