The Marches Local Enterprise Partnership – the business-led body which drives the region’s economic growth – says its new digital strategy will help the area develop an advanced hi-tech economy served by the highest quality digital infrastructure.
The LEP – which covers Herefordshire, Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin – launched its Marches Digital Strategy as part of its regional Business Recovery Week.
The strategy, which has been developed in partnership with the region’s local authorities led by Shropshire Council, spells out how the Marches can secure increased growth and productivity by developing high quality digital centres, seamless digital connections and innovation hotspots as well as maximise digital opportunities for business with improved digital collaboration and digitally-enabled innovation.
It also highlights how it can develop a high-quality digitally-skilled workforce which helps all communities deepen their skills in new technology, and enhance digital connectivity across the region with world-class connectivity attracting new investment.
Minister for Digital and Culture Caroline Dinenage MP said: “I am delighted the Marches LEP’s strategy aligns with our ambitions for a tech-powered post-covid recovery. The Government supports tech hubs across the country with growth programmes for start ups and scale up tech businesses, by boosting people’s digital skills and investing in better broadband and 5G networks to power growth and innovation.”
Marches LEP chair Mandy Thorn said a high-quality digital infrastructure was essential to the region making a successful recovery from the Covid-19 lockdown.
“The coronavirus crisis brought into stark relief the need for all businesses to be digitally agile and for the everybody to have access to the highest-quality digital infrastructure, so that we could work effectively from home, stay in contact with each other, continue to trade and do business.
“We have made huge strides in the Marches with improving our connectivity in recent years but there is still more work to be done. This report paves the way for new 5G trials, improved 4G connections and ways of plugging both mobile and broadband not spots.
“We will continue to encourage commercial full fibre and 5G connectivity in key urban centres and growth locations, whilst also building on our rural full fibre footprint.
“And we want to make sure we consolidate our fixed and mobile network coverage with accessible public Wi-Fi hotspots.”
The new strategy also pledges to establish a series of digital innovation trials which support the needs of local industry, encourage standalone commercial investment in new technology and strengthen partnerships between universities, public sector and digital pioneers to drive innovation and research.
The report also calls for the appointment of a digital ‘tsar’ who is able to champion the Marches and further strengthen links between the LEP and business.
A pioneering 5G health project is already being trialled in parts of south Shropshire to examine how the emerging technology can be used to deliver health and social care services in rural areas. The project is valued at £5.8 million, with £3.3 million grant funding coming from DCMS.