Tim Pilcher: How simple connectivity vouchers can empower Britain’s businesses right now

25 Nov

Tim Pilcher is the CEO of Glide. This is a sponsored post by Glide.

The impact of Covid‐19 on SMEs has been truly staggering, with 9.4 million people placed on furlough by July this year. Many, if not all, SMEs have been forced to change the way they operate overnight and the reliance on connectivity has never been more important. As the Government encourages us to build back better, it’s essential that we give Britain’s businesses what they need to survive, or their very existence could be in danger and the livelihoods of many threatened.

What’s the problem facing SMEs?

SMEs are facing a perfect storm – an unprecedented pandemic and now the impending fallout of Brexit at the end of the year. SMEs are at the heart of the UK’s recovery and economic growth plans, but in order to compete on a national and global stage, they need fast connectivity that works if they are to hope to generate investment in new services and solutions for their customers – and ultimately create job opportunities.

A lack of easily accessible funding to upgrade existing connectivity has meant that gaining fast internet connectivity is still problematic for many SMEs. A successful and efficient, simple, stand alone, non-aggregated voucher scheme to incentivise connectivity already exists – however, demand meant funds were used up quickly plus it is no longer available to new applicants.

The current scheme requires its beneficiaries to be grouped together into areas of demand, which increases the risk that individuals will be left behind. Simply put, either you’re in with your neighbours, or you’re out on your own.

Without Government intervention, local businesses are under threat.

Ultimately, Britain’s SMEs need more support and robust internet connectivity to survive and indeed thrive as they form the heart of the UK’s post‐pandemic and Brexit economy recovery; funding via Government support is needed for those businesses now as many face the risk of closure if they cannot compete in a digital world.

What the SMEs are saying:

“Although I desperately needed better broadband, I couldn’t have upgraded without the voucher scheme. What was great is that the system was so simple. Funding really can’t be a communal thing where businesses have to wait until the whole community agrees – it doesn’t make any practical sense.”

− Eugen Kail, Director, Autozoom

“It is really important for the majority of businesses here to have high speed connectivity to help them expand their business and respond to customers quickly. One of the first questions prospective tenants ask is ‘how good is the internet connection?’.”

− Linda Connelly of Spring Property Management

“Without the support of external funding many companies won’t be able to afford to increase the capability of their internet connections. This will leave them either having to place more employees within the office premises or they will have to scale down their operations either through furlough or redundancies.”

− Steve Voller, Director at MDI Networks Ltd

What can be done?

Fortunately, the solution is pretty simple. We’re calling on the Government to reallocate some existing unused funds from complex schemes, which are expected to be left unspent, into similar, simpler ones to provide immediate support for individual connectivity requirements. Schemes such as the Gigabit Voucher Scheme (GBVS) have proved hugely popular, with around 30,000 applicants successfully improving their connectivity as a result.

While incredibly important to continue to fund schemes to support rural broadband connectivity, we believe the imbalance in uptake compared to funding allocation needs to be set right. As well as funding rural areas, the Government should also consider supporting additional funding for those struggling with connectivity in urban areas. In doing so, it will give SMEs the connectivity they need to survive throughout the ongoing pandemic and into our post‐Brexit environment.

If you believe the Government should intervene and support SMEs to get easier access to funding to support connectivity installation, please register your name here.

Clare Ambrosino: Why One Nation Conservatism can unite the country and win the Millennial vote

21 Aug

Clare Ambrosino is a Communications Consultant and was a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate in last year’s General Election.

It is a common perception that my generation, the Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996), also known as the Peter Pan generation, the Boomerang generation or the Me, Me, Me generation, are principally governed by their desire to live life hedonistically, and place their emphasis on personal pleasure and career rather than buckling down to a life of responsibility.

Certainly, a brief look at the social media profile of anyone born after 1980 (#guilty), will show a lifestyle of holidays, instagrammable rooftop cocktails and a catalogue of material purchases, as well as a penchant for photographing everything ever eaten in a restaurant. This has led many of our parents, who by the age of thirty were already married with kids and a mortgage, to roll their eyes and wonder when we are going to settle down to real life!

However, are Millennials really so privileged or is this apparent golden age of opportunity masking the simple fact that our parents, who received free access to university education and were able to buy a home with generous mortgages (sometimes as much as 100% of the cost of the house) shared fundamental values and a belief in society which we do not have?

After all, what better way to get people to buy into the values of a society if they literally buy a stake in it? Is it any wonder that young people today – the first generation unable to buy a home in decades – seem to want to spend as if there were no tomorrow? Could it be that precisely because the thirty some-things of 2020 are unable to buy their stake, that many have become largely disillusioned with traditional party politics, preferring instead the populist and single-policy movements?

Talking to my peers, it seems that many of them don’t see the relevance of traditional values or traditional politics to their lifestyle, and they prefer to live life in the now. They choose the fast hit of dating apps and fun over responsibility and deferred gratification.

Millennials were largely born into carefully planned, child centred families whose high ambitions, encouraged them to aim high and provided infinitely more affirmation than their parents had received. For decades they have enjoyed the lowest unemployment levels on record, and had access to opportunities and luxuries that previous generations did not have, brought by technological advancements and globalisation.

Yet, all is not as idyllic as it seems. Born into a fast changing and threatening geo-political landscape and with old certainties of growing up in question, younger people have become reluctant to commit to saving and planning for the future in the same the way previous generations did.

The twin towers, the war on terror, the credit recession, austerity, the tensions underlying the EU referendum and now, to cap it all, a deadly pandemic all wrapped up into a new recession and culture wars on the side. The lives of Millennials have been set against a backdrop of fear and anxiety, so that it is of little surprise that many, mercifully not all, have turned inward and do not buy into the values which are the pillars of society. ‘Peter Pans’ of both sexes prefer to burn the candle at both ends. They are cicadas, not ants.

The fact of the matter is however, that many, if not most Millennials would love to plan for the future and raise a family, but this is becoming increasingly difficult. According to recent ONS data, overall marriage rates are at their lowest on record, sinking by 45% since 1972, with the average age of marriage being 35.7 for women and 38 for men. High university debts make it difficult to save for the significant deposits now required by banks, and this has led to increased rents and inflated house prices.

Coming into Covid-19, the last standing pillar of stability for young people – that of employment – is now also at risk. This will naturally lead to an exacerbation of an already existing resentment towards the institutions and powers at play.

Now more than ever, the nation needs to be brought together as a whole and we need to make younger people feel that they have a voice which will be listened to. The fall of the red wall in the North was the proof that if people feel that they are being part of the conversation, they will respond. Too many people have felt excluded and unheard – excluded from the decisions of Westminster, excluded from the workforce, excluded from society itself.

The Prime Minister said last week that we can expect to have a “bumpy few months” ahead of us, and we have a “long way to go” until the UK sees a return to “economic vitality and health”. However, one of Britain’s greatest strengths is that its people pull together in a crisis.

The Covid-19 pandemic, whilst causing one of the biggest recessions in our economy, may become an opportunity to reset the way we live and work – the Great Reset, as it was called by the World Economic Forum. The UK should use this time to focus on its strengths as one of the world leaders in the AI and tech sectors, to generate new jobs for the young, retraining existing workers and pushing forward with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The UK should also pivot on the rising trend of working from home to encourage people to move out of the city and invest in rural and coastal towns, where homes are more affordable and new investment is much needed for the survival of their economies. What the government can do to encourage this, is to ensure there are favourable conditions for these opportunities to thrive, such as cutting edge broadband connectivity across our rural areas. Our education system too can follow the job demand, so that the community, education institutions and job opportunities are more closely interlinked.

It is always worth looking at the Democrats to see the future direction of the Labour Party. Esteemed Professor Niall Ferguson, in an article for The Atlantic in May 2019 entitled ‘The Coming Generation War’, correctly identified that the Democrats would start to use generational divides as a wedge issue for future elections. Certainly, this appears to be the central strategy in the impressive Democratic presidential campaign. Joe Biden has recently told a virtual town hall with young Americans that “young people have got a kick in the teeth”, effectively communicating how he feels younger voters’ pain.

In the UK, the Labour Party, whilst traditionally relying on the votes of younger people, has yet to articulate the generation crisis they find themselves in by offering any real solutions.

As Conservatives, it should be our priority to be bold and become the voice of this generation by providing a new vision to keep unemployment levels down, and keep the promise of a home owning democracy, which has served previous generations so well. We should allow young people to buy a stake in society and live by One Nation Conservative values. Now more than ever, young people should be reassured they have a stake in the future and nothing will encourage people to feel included as much as home ownership and stability in the workplace.