Improving digital connectivity to benefit businesses and residents is the aim of a new study announced by West of England Mayor Tim Bowles, emphasising the need for high-speed digital networks.
“Digital access, including high speed broadband, is essential to our future economic success as a region,” he said.
“The West of England is a leader in innovation, high tech and creativity. We have successful businesses and high value jobs, and we’re a net contributor to the national purse – but connectivity remains a challenge in some parts of our region.
“We need high-speed, high-quality digital networks to support our businesses, from start-ups to global players, to ensure they can continue to compete nationally and internationally.
“As well as supporting businesses, digital connectivity is also vital to opening up wider skills and employment opportunities to residents.”
The study will look at levels of connectivity in Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset and identify where there are gaps in provision.
“We need a regional overview of digital provision that we can use as a basis for conversations with Government, providers, business and house builders, to make sure that we start to address issues, together.
It may be that we need to set some standards for our region, for example making sure developers think about digital connectivity before they build new houses.
The study, to be launched in the autumn, will also consider skills gaps in the digital sector. A Tech Nation report identifies Bristol and Bath as the most productive area in the country with the highest digital business concentration of any major city region, but more people with the skills to work in this sector are needed now, and into the future.
Tim said: “We have to do more to promote the fantastic career opportunities in technology to school-age children, young adults, and also people who may be looking for a career change.”
The digital study and its recommendations will support the three key priority areas identified in the draft regional strategy launched in July.
He explained: “The draft strategy is out for consultation and feedback will used to inform the West of England Combined Authority’s more detailed plans, priorities and funding decisions.
“However in developing the strategy, it became evident that digital connectivity is key to everything we do, and is something we need to start work on quickly.”