Minister unable to say whether 2025 gigabit broadband target will be met

Doubts over the Government’s ambitious pledge on gigabit-capable broadband deepened on Tuesday after the minister responsible for its roll-out failed to say how confident he felt about making the 2025 target.

Full-fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025 was a key Conservative manifesto pledge in the 2019 general election. It brought the goal forward by eight years.

Legislative changes to accelerate progress and £5 billion of public funding were among the promises.

Matt Warman, Minister for Digital Infrastructure, was grilled on the matter by MPs but would not be drawn on how likely he felt the target could still be reached.

“I think it’s important to be honest that the manifesto commitment that we made itself highlights that this is a difficult challenge – and what you don’t often put is things are difficult in manifestos – but we have also seen the Covid crisis, we have also made a very important, and I think right decision, on the involvement of high-risk vendors, these things make that target harder to reach,” he told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

“We are absolutely committed to making sure that we remove every possible barrier and making sure that we set those market conditions as well as they can be.”

Labour MP Kevin Brennan described Mr Warman’s responses as “meaningless drivel”, after the minister declined to say on a scale of one to 10 how confident he felt about the 2025 aim.

“Anybody watching these proceedings will not believe on the basis of those answers that the Government is going to reach the target,” Mr Brennan said.

Mr Warman told the committee he believes gigabit-capable connectivity should be available to half of the UK within the next year or so.

“Yes there has been Covid, yes, there has been the decision on Huawei, but when we said in December that this is a difficult target to meet, it was difficult then – it is, yes, somewhat more difficult now but I am not going to pretend that either Covid or Huawei are deal breakers in our ambition,” he responded.

The evidence session was the last by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, in its inquiry into broadband and the road to 5G.