The National Rural Conference 2024

The Rural Services Network (RSN) is thrilled to announce the National Rural Conference 2024, taking place from 16th to 19th September. This virtual event, accessible via Zoom, is the premier gathering for senior officers, members, policymakers, and rural service professionals.
Further information and booking details can be found here

Importance of Rural Digital Champions

Research suggests that local authorities that have prioritised digital connectivity and appointed Digital Champions, have had significant success in speeding up rollout and improving relationships with telecommunications companies.

Mobile UK, the trade association for the UK’s mobile network operators – EE, O2, Three and Vodaphone, have today launched a report, Building Mobile Britain: The Case for Local Authority Digital Champions (https://www.mobileuk.org/digital-champions) which sets out the challenge for connectivity and its critical role in the way that society communicates and conducts business. 

The Government recognises this central role and has set a target for the majority of households to be connected to 5G by 2030, and further to that, 95% of the UK’s landmass should be covered by a reliable 4G signal through the Shared Rural Network, a joint initiative between the UK’s Mobile Network Operators and HM Government. In order to achieve this, it is equally important to identify and alleviate any barriers that impede or make mobile deployment more difficult, costly, or timely to rollout.

Local Authorities face unprecedented cuts and revenue constraints with central government grants (including retained business rates) cut 37% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2019-20. However, even with this backdrop, investment in a localised resource in the form of a Digital Champion, offers significant benefits in enabling mobile deployment and thus realising the benefits of connectivity to local areas more quickly.  The benefits of improving mobile connectivity go far beyond greater mobile coverage. Increased mobile deployment has huge potential to deliver real economic, political, and societal benefits.

The report sets out five attributes that Mobile UK see as key to embedding an effective digital strategy:

  • A fully funded role
  • Senior Level Role and Responsibility
  • Political Responsibility and Leadership
  • Experience and Skills
  • Outcome not output focussed

Graham Biggs MBE, Chief Executive of the Rural Services Network said:

“Rural local authorities have faced historic underfunding from successive governments compared to urban areas and therefore face significant pressures on discretionary spend. We also know that rural areas often experience poor connection and lack of mobile phone signal.  Whilst work is taking place with the Shared Rural Network to improve this situation, we welcome the report from Mobile UK and recognise the important role that Digital Champions can play in coordinating work across a local authority, and in driving forward to remove barriers to connectivity.

However, Government should invest in this at a local level so that rural areas are not left behind through lack of funding, and improved connectivity can enable the rural communities and economies to thrive.”

Commenting on the campaign for Digital Champions, Director of Policy and Communications at Mobile UK, Gareth Elliott says:

“The Government has placed enormous emphasis in its Levelling Up agenda on improving digital connectivity, particularly to reduce digital poverty and exclusion, but to achieve these goals it is important to understand the need to assist local authorities in helping to prioritise and coordinate mobile infrastructure deployment.

“Our report highlights the role and dramatic impact a Government-funded Digital Champion, can have on a council’s ability to play a positive role in the rollout of digital connectivity and to support the UK realise its goal of 5G rollout.”

According to the report, less than a third (32%) of councillors believe their local authority is doing enough to smooth the way for rollout of telecommunications infrastructure and equipment in their local area. 

The report is essential reading for local authorities and those wanting to improve connectivity in their local area.  It includes case studies that set out where Digital Champions have made a real difference to their local authorities and communities.

The report also includes reference to the #MeetTheChampions video series which showcases local council-supported digital strategies, proactively investing in enhancing connectivity to end digital poverty and create positive and tangible local impact.

To watch #MeetTheChampions video series visit:
https://www.mobileuk.org/meet-the-champions

For more information visit: www.mobileuk.org

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