Local authority digital priorities revealed

A survey of digital leaders at UK councils has revealed the gigabit broadband rollout remains the top priority.

The finding is included in the second annual survey of digital leaders at councils across England, Scotland and Wales, which was carried out by Edinburgh-based connectivity consultancy, FarrPoint.

The survey found that getting more areas covered by gigabit broadband remains the top connectivity priority for council digital leaders for the second year running. 47 per cent of respondents chose it as their number one priority, with another 30 per cent placing it second.

There has been a notable increase in awareness and preparedness for the various forthcoming connectivity service switch-offs. For example, only 2 per cent of respondents had not started planning for the migration from copper to fibre broadband, compared to 27 per cent last year.

That contrasts with 21 per cent of councils that have not yet put plans in place for the 2G and 3G switch offs – which are already under way.

Half (51 per cent) of councils have an up-to-date digital connectivity strategy (up from 43 per cent in Jan 2023). Around 11 per cent still have no digital connectivity strategy at all.

Dr Andrew Muir, chief executive, FarrPoint, said, “This is the second year of our connectivity research with local authority digital leaders, and it was interesting to see what’s changed – and what hasn’t – since our last report a year ago.

“Some great progress has been made on digital connectivity within councils, but there are still areas for improvement. For example, it was clear from the responses that many local authorities are under significant financial pressure, which is, at times, leading to a reduced focus on supporting the digital connectivity rollout and take-up of services.

“During the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, councils could also be doing more to encourage take-up of improved connectivity services among their residents. There’s a widely held perception that these are unaffordable, but we’ve seen many cases where improved services are just as cheap, or even cheaper, than existing services.”

In addition, the survey found 5G continues to divide opinion. Even though respondents said 5G was important to them, none picked 5G as their top priority for 2024.

Ensuring more areas covered by 4G was a higher priority for digital leaders than 5G on average. This could suggest the business case and benefits that 5G could deliver have not yet been widely demonstrated.