Evening Standard comment: London must have superfast broadband
The former business minister, Anna Soubry, will have cheered many Londoners with her demand for improved access to superfast broadband. Her recommendation is that BT should be separated from Openreach, which runs much of Britain s broadband infrastructure a move rejected by Ofcom. This paper does not have a view about the means by which we get improvements. What matters is that it is done. Where Londoners will be right behind Soubry is her suggestion that broadband should be considered a fourth essential utility for households, along with gas, electricity and water, which would mean higher standards of access would be legally enforced. Good internet access may not be as basic as water but it is indispensable for modern businesses to function and necessary for access to a range of public as well as commercial services. And if this is true of the whole country, it is far truer of London.
A report by the Commons Culture Select Committee declared it was astonishing that millions of homes and businesses in London did not have superfast broadband. It is staggering that last year it came 26th in a league table of European capitals for broadband speeds, behind Berlin, Dublin and Vienna. Like our transport system, broadband is infrastructure on which the rest of the economy depends. At a time when Britain s productivity lags behind our competitors and when, post-Brexit, business needs to be as flexible and responsive as possible to the demands of global markets, our broadband access must be as good as it can possibly be. Right now it is inadequate.
Of all the priorities facing Karen Bradley, the new Culture Secretary, this is the most urgent. Over to her.
Tourism in flux
Europe’s biggest travel operator, TUI, has cut its revenue forecasts for this year1; last month, Thomas Cook issued a profits warning. Much of this is down to the nervousness of Germans, Belgians and Scandinavians about travelling to Turkey because of the unrest or indeed to travel at all after the terror attack at Brussels airport. Britons are less affected by all this but we have all been hit by the weakness of sterling. But it s an ill wind. Tourism is nothing if not fluid; people who hesitate to travel to Turkey or North Africa because of fears about terrorism or civil unrest instead are going to Spain, which badly needs the revenue. Indeed, many Brits this year have stayed at home, holidaying in Cornwall, Suffolk or Wales which are immune to Eurostar strikes and the crush at airports.
If other parts of the world are unstable, it s an opportunity to discover the beauty of the rest of Britain or the splendid seaside resorts close to London. Meanwhile, there is no sign that Brexit has notably reduced the flow of tourists here; on the contrary, their dollars and renminbi buy far more now than last year. Let s cherish our tourists: they help sustain the London economy in challenging times and keep our theatres and restaurants afloat. The global terrorist threat must not be allowed to undermine an industry which benefits us all.
The Gold Rush
There’s nothing quite like the early gold medals of an Olympics2 to lift the national mood, and yesterday s golds for the divers, Jack Laugher and Chris Mears, and the kayaker, Joe Clarke, have brought the overall British medals total to 12, and cheered the entire country. Plainly, it s not just the winning that matters at Rio but the taking part but by goodness, winning gold certainly helps.