Closure of connection voucher fund concerns council

Concerns have been raised at the closure of a Government scheme to help rural businesses connect to superfast broadband.

Since April this year, small and medium businesses in Northumberland have been able to apply for a free connection voucher worth up to £3,000 to get connected to superfast broadband.

The scheme was funded by the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) initiative.

In rural areas of the county, businesses are working together to enable a sound infrastructure to be built which would allow them to access sustainable superfast broadband.

However, the county council has now been informed of the closure of this scheme and no more applications are being accepted.

Coun Dave Ledger, deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “Access to superfast broadband is becoming fundamental to our everyday lives and it is only right that all businesses expect to be able to access faster broadband speeds no matter where they live.

“The broadband programme underpins the growth plans we have for the county as connectivity is a major driver to business growth and we are committed to supporting and growing our rural economy.

“Since April, more than 260 businesses in Northumberland have applied for the funding to get their businesses connected through the voucher scheme.

“However, there are others that still want the opportunity to apply. As the Government has only just informed us this voucher scheme has now stopped, we are trying to find ways in which we can continue to help these businesses.

“We would encourage our local Members Of Parliament to help ensure communities in all parts of rural Northumberland are connected.”

Across Northumberland, the council expects fibre broadband to be available to around 90 per cent of premises by the end of the year.

A second phase of fibre roll-out, expected to take the technology to around 95 per cent of premises, starts in 2016.

A Department for Media, Culture and Sport spokesman said: “We have been in weekly contact with cities and suppliers who were all aware that the scheme was time limited and that we would shortly stop accepting applications.

“The broadband connection voucher scheme has been open to SMEs (small and medium enterprises) in 50 cities and we are delighted that tens of thousands of businesses have received a voucher, giving them access to an affordable superfast broadband connection.

“All of the £40million funding pot for the broadband connection voucher scheme has now been allocated to businesses and so no further applications are being accepted.”