Businesses face ‘impossible task’
UNRELIABLE broadband and a lack of mobile phone signal makes it almost impossible for some businesses to work in North Norfolk, according to a local business leader.
But now the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has appealed for new members to join them to campaign for better services in the area.
Judith Bell, development manager in East Anglia, spoke out during an open event in Sheringham, supported by North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, to inform non members of the benefits of being in the FSB.
Mrs Bell said: “It is one of the biggest issues we face. We did a survey of our members in the early part of last year and it’s one of the top three issues which affects people being able to conduct their business.
“We do hear horror stories of people not being connected, or having service issues and being without service, and that means it is almost impossible for them to do business for that period of time.
“Many of our members are sole traders and people who work from home and therefore it is absolutely crucial to them that they have got access via broadband to the internet to conduct their business.
“What we do is gather information from our members on issues such as broadband and we will then campaign and lobby politicians and decision makers and the telecoms companies to find out what it is they’re doing and we try to act as the voice on behalf of all their members.”
Nationally, the FSB has just under 200,000 members but it does not currently have a branch in North Norfolk.
Mrs Bell said: “It is suffering a bit of a lack of support so the fact that (MP Norman Lamb) said he would come along and meet members tonight we thought was fantastic.
“I think it’s on every politician’s agenda to support business because it is the lifeblood of the economy.” And she added: “If there is an appetite for it then we will support members to set up a new committee for North Norfolk. It’s that strength in numbers.”
Hopes of better mobile phone coverage in Blakeney were dashed after the plug was pulled on a taxpayer-funded scheme to eliminate the not-spots amid fears it would not get planning permission.
But Mr Lamb revealed he was due to raise his concerns with communications minister Ed Vaizey this week.
“It’s a massive issue and there is a real urban/rural divide,” Mr Lamb said. “We had a big battle to get mobile coverage in Blakeney which was really important from a safety point of view, especially with the main road going through there. There was funding available but because of complications with the National Trust we have ended up losing that money so that whole area is losing the opportunity of good broadband. I’m meeting the minister to discuss that because I’m not happy with what’s happened.
“As a country we need to invest more in our infrastructure, particularly our broadband, so businesses wherever they are can be connected to the outside world. And the wonderful thing about broadband is it enables you to have a successful business anywhere, there are lots of businesses which can be based in rural areas if there is good broadband, and we’ve fallen behind many other emerging economies because we haven’t made sufficient investment.”