Equipping every business with superfast broadband would be far more financially beneficial to the UK than spending upwards of £45billion on a new high-speed railway, not to mention cheaper, writes entrepreneur Scott Fletcher, founder of ANS Group.
Rather than forcing through HS2, the government should invest in fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) and fibre-to-the home (FTTH) broadband, as the latter would accelerate the development of new technology in the long term, while the former would help firms in the nearer term.
This is because the way the UK conducts business is rapidly changing and will continue to change in the future. In fact, the only thing that we can predict for certain is that the fast interchange of data will be an essential feature of this increasingly digital age.
As this age goes on, the need for face-to-face business meetings, and hence the need for superfast trains, will become less important thanks to greater use of digital conferencing and mobile computing devices. Indeed, by the time the first phase of HS2 becomes operational in 2026, it may well be not much more than a quaint obsolescence.
Suggesting otherwise, transport minister Patrick McLoughlin has said that HS2 would be producing “around £50bn of economic benefits once it is up and running,” but the National Audit Office disputes this figure.
Specifically, the government’s calculations include £12.6bn for time saved on business travel, yet the NAO reports this estimate is based on “a simplifying assumption that that time spent travelling is unproductive.” Surely, therefore, a better way to boost productive is to simply provide faster broadband and more carriages on existing inter-city trains.
Overall, I just cannot accept that spending millions of pounds on cutting a journey time from London to Birmingham by 20 minutes will have anything like the financial benefits that are claimed for HS2.
If the railway is to generate any economic gains, the coalition should be accelerating growth and employment in the new technology centres in the north of England. The country should be planning to build the railway from north to south and not the other way round but, ultimately, it needs to build the infrastructure to offer FTTP and FTTH broadband, because the benefits would be immense.