Progress required

Most councils have out-of-date digital strategy

Andrew Muir: further development needed

More than half of local councils have an out of date digital connectivity strategy and one in ten has no strategy at all, according to new research.

Despite the slow progress almost all (97%) of those surveyed believed their organisation recognised the priority of digital connectivity and the fundamental role it plays in their area’s competitiveness.

The findings emerged in the first survey of local authority digital leaders across the UK to look at priorities across fixed and mobile connectivity within their areas – and the barriers that can prevent progress.

Edinburgh-based digital consultancy FarrPoint questioned more than 100 individuals at local authorities across England, Scotland and Wales in December.

The research examined a range of topics from gigabit-capable broadband to 5G, smart places, telecoms and net zero.

It discovered that only 43% of councils who responded have an up-to-date digital connectivity strategy, with around 12% having no digital connectivity strategy.

The majority of councils (60%) want to ensure their area is fully covered by 4G first before investing more in 5G.

All responding councils felt at least reasonably well informed about digital connectivity coverage in their area, but 80% of respondents were unsure how improved connectivity can reduce carbon emissions.

Many councils are under-prepared for the forthcoming telecoms switch-offs, with more than 1 in 4 having no plans in place.

Only 43% of local authorities had deployed smart places technologies – such as Internet of Things – in their area, with 1 in 4 still questioning the benefits.

Lack of funding from government is seen by councils as the biggest barrier to improving connectivity, closely followed by deployment issues.

All respondents agreed that gigabit-enabled broadband plays a vital role in enabling their region to remain competitive, with nearly all respondents believing their organisation has a role to play in ensuring gigabit is delivered in their area.

Dr Andrew Muir, chief executive at FarrPoint, said: “Our research highlighted some good progress on digital connectivity within local authorities, but there are still some areas for further development.  

“With the focus from national government and industry on rolling out gigabit services and investments in fibre, it is not surprising that this was the area where we saw most progress from councils in 2022. There have also been improvements in 4G coverage, and to a lesser extent 5G, along with some advancements in smart places and IoT. 

“The least progress was seen on ensuring digital connectivity is aligned with net-zero targets, suggesting this is an area that isn’t fully understood yet, despite the overwhelming majority of local authorities having declared climate emergencies in their area.

“Local authorities need to pay more attention to this area as net-zero targets get closer, and awareness grows that connectivity is an essential enabler to achieving these targets.

“I’d advise local authorities to ensure they have an up-to-date connectivity strategy, and also to prioritise preparations for the telecoms switch-offs, as some of these changes are already happening.”

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