‘People’s lives slip away’ - council demands action over digital inequalities
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Councillors have called for action to be taken over the issue of rural broadband and digital inequality “as a matter of urgency”.
Broadland councillors have urged the authority to apply for a share of the community infrastructure levy (CIL) - cash from housing developers for local projects - to spend on improving broadband.
It comes as the government walked back its pledge to ensure all primary school children could return to the classroom for a month before the summer break.
And follows fears that Norfolk’s pupils are missing out on home-schooling during the coronavirus lockdown due to poor internet access, after a watchdog ranked the county in the bottom fifth percentile across England.
At a meeting of Broadland Council’s overview and scrutiny committee held on Tuesday, June 9, Stuart Beadle, urged the council to address the issue urgently.
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“As we talk about it for months and months and months peoples’ lives are slipping away,” he said.
“It’s difficult for people to progress their businesses.
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“We should talk about this as a matter of urgency and ask the council to look at broadband capacity as a matter of urgency rather than just talking about it.”
Mr Beadle, Liberal Democrat councillor for Reepham, added: “Everyone is aware of the effects of Covid-19. People rely on IT for businesses and as students. And as far as students are concerned, its the ones who are the most disadvantaged who are hit worst.”
And Natasha Harpley, Labour councillor for Sprowston, said: “Norfolk is one of the worst affected counties for digital inequalities. The government recognises this digital divide.”
She added: The government are backing down on getting children back into schools so there will be more working from home.
“It is a real matter for urgency - the poorest students will be worst affected as they can’t afford to pay for private tuition to catch up.”
But Ken Kelly, Conservative councillor for Taverham South, said the council’s own IT system was having problems and asked why the authority couldn’t “get its own house in order”.
And Jonathan Empsell, cabinet member for organisational development, said it had been as issue “for a while” but the council was working to resolve it and to ensure “broadband is up and running for everyone in Norfolk”.
The CIL infrastructure funding bid for broadband will be talked about at cabinet on June 16.