- Delivering 5G connectivity alone is expected to be worth £21 billion (GVA) to the national and regional economy over the next decade
- Midlands is already host to the UK’s first multi-city 5G test-bed
- Pioneering Midlands Engine Digital Connected Map is a bold next step in driving digital investment
On Tuesday [18 January], Midlands Engine convened expert regional partners for its Digital Conference with the aim to level up regional digital connectivity in support of economic prosperity across the whole of the Midlands. Hosted in partnership with HSBC UK, the event featured insights from Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure, Julia Lopez MP, as well as representatives from BT Openreach, CityFibre, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, local authorities and leading Midlands universities.
The virtual conference acted to build on the extraordinary ongoing work in the Midlands in the field of digital innovation and face the challenge of levelling up a region that has too often been left behind when it comes to investment in these technologies. There are huge gaps in connectivity, within our cities and towns as well as rural area – a situation that in recent years has been highlighted even more by the changes to our lives caused by the pandemic.
The Digital Conference provided a dynamic space for collaboration and ideas from across the Midlands Engine partnership – sharing insight and best practice, and making policy recommendations with the aim to accelerate economic growth and underpin future regional competitiveness through digital super-connectivity. It called for collaboration from government, industry and academic partners to learn lessons from a history of underinvestment, as well as an ongoing pandemic which has turned digital connectivity into a critical necessity, to fulfil the Midlands’ incredible digital potential.
The event comes as the Midlands Engine, with backing from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and in collaboration with mobile operators, local authority partners, Ordnance Survey, universities and partners WM5G, have created the country’s most comprehensive regional digital connectivity map.
The pioneering Midlands Engine Digital Connected Map provides an in-depth view into public assets, broadband, 4G, 5G and fibre + gigabit connections – giving an unprecedented picture of current coverage (and lack of) and where services are needed most, to pinpoint the exact areas needed for investment in driving both connectivity and wider regional economic prosperity.
The Digital Conference presented an opportunity to build on momentum created by upcoming projects from Midlands Engine partners, such as the establishment of the Midlands Engine Digital Strategy Board, designed to incisively accelerate regional digital transformation. The Midlands Engine is also partnering with the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to accelerate the roll-out of Project Gigabit across our region, which aims to connect the hardest-to-reach homes and businesses. The UK’s first 5G factory trial will also be held by Worcester Bosch and Yamazaki Mazak – a landmark step towards creating smart factories in the UK.
Sir John Peace, Chairman of Midlands Engine said: “The Midlands Engine partnership is committed to seeing the Midlands becoming the best-connected UK region. Digital super-connectivity will accelerate economic growth and underpin regional competitiveness for current and future generations.
“This commitment is underpinned by the reality that many rural and urban areas in our region are not benefitting from the connectivity they need to drive economic recovery, enable communities, and deliver growth. By delivering connectivity for everyone, we can seize the opportunities digitalisation presents for social mobility and transformational change.”
Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure, Julia Lopez MP said: “We know digital connectivity is crucial for maintaining the Midlands as an economic powerhouse. Superfast broadband coverage in the region is strong at 98 per cent but we are now giving people access to much faster gigabit broadband and 5G speeds so that the region is equipped with the infrastructure for the technologies of the future.
“We’ve already funded full fibre rollout across Warwickshire, Wolverhampton and Stoke-on-Trent while Shropshire and Worcestershire will be among the first to benefit from our new £5 billion Project Gigabit. On top of this, our £20 million investment in a pioneering 5G testbed across the West Midlands has helped to put it top of the UK table for coverage of this revolutionary mobile technology.”
Vice Chair of Midlands Engine All-Party Parliamentary Group and Shadow Spokesperson for Home Affairs, Lord Coaker said: “Digital infrastructure and access to connectivity are essential to members of a modern society. If we are to truly close the gap on the regional disparities we face across the UK, digital must play a central role as we look to recover from the pandemic and support those communities who have been hit hardest by the impacts of COVID.
“The Midlands Engine is leading this call, displaying their convening power in the Midlands and shining a light on the importance of industry, academic and local government collaboration when calling for additional government investment.”
Jane Hunt, MP for Loughborough said: “The Midlands has long been a proud innovator and this legacy is continued as we lead in the digital revolution of the UK. The data presented by Midlands Engine showcases the extraordinary work being delivered in our region to grow our digital sector and highlights the impact that a digital connectivity strategy would have on our region’s economy, the well-being of or communities and our potential for growth.
“As we continue to level-up across the UK we must make the most of the opportunities that digital present and invest in the technologies of the future, releasing untapped opportunities for the generations of the future.”
Ian Stuart, Chief Executive Officer of HSBC UK said: “The Midlands is a hub of innovation and enterprise, and we are proud to be working with the Midlands Engine partnership in our shared ambition to use technology to drive transformative change across the region.
“We are ourselves digitising at scale – putting the bank in our customers’ pockets by investing heavily to support digital adoption and simplifying and automating journeys, whilst preserving human contact for moments that matter. To show our commitment to the tech sector, we have £500m carved out of HSBC’s £15bn SME fund to support ambitious tech businesses, and are currently banking c.66,000 tech firms with a c£6bn lending book.
“We are making progress in this space, but we have more to do. As the tech sector continues to evolve, it’s critical that we work together to ensure we have the right support in place to drive sustainable, inclusive growth in the Midlands now and for many years to come.”