Hundreds of public sites across Greater Manchester are now connected to next-generation digital infrastructure after the UK’s largest Local Full Fibre Network rollout has been substantially completed, delivering an economic boost already worth nearly £12m.
In early 2020, Greater Manchester announced its partnership with Virgin Media Business to deliver fibre optic connectivity to public sector sites throughout the city-region.
The £23.8M Local Full Fibre Networks Programme, with additional local authority investments, set out a plan for up to 2,700km of new fibre optic broadband infrastructure to be laid across the region connecting more than 1,500 public sites, making this the UK’s largest Local Full Fibre Networks Programme to date.
Despite the challenges of Covid-19, with work due to start as the UK’s first national lockdown was announced, rapid progress has been made and a recent report shows significant local economic benefits of the work to date with £11.8m of overall local economic value (direct and indirect) for year one. These figures have been generated using the Greater Manchester Forecasting Model, which estimates GVA (gross value added) and the numbers of employees/employment per sector.
The programme has also exceeded local employment targets, with 75% of the workforce behind the delivery of the full fibre network being based in Greater Manchester.
Virgin Media Business made several bold social value investments and have continued to deliver on these despite the challenges of Covid-19. This includes helping establish the Greater Manchester Technology Fund, which has supported over 1,300 digitally excluded young people to date with the technology and connectivity needed to continue their learning at home while schools and colleges are closed.
In addition, Virgin Media Business staff have used annual volunteer days to support people across Greater Manchester – delivering support packages to residents as part of a local food bank initiative and supporting the delivery of coronavirus vaccinations.
This investment underpins a wide range of digital transformation and smart city projects and futureproofs public service networks, helping ensure Greater Manchester has the digital infrastructure it needs to be a world class digital city region.
Importantly, the programme will also help achieve Greater Manchester’s ambition to become a 100% digitally enabled city-region, driven by a Digital Inclusion Taskforce which brings together both public and private sector organisations to address the interrelated barriers to digital inclusion and the digital divide such as connectivity, accessibility, affordability, skills, motivation and confidence.
Councillor Sean Fielding, GMCA Lead for Employment, Skills and Digital, said “The Local Full Fibre Network programme demonstrates services designed to serve the majority as well as our future generations. Our people should be able to benefit from everything that being part of a digital city region brings.
This programme will future proof our connectivity for the next 30 years and supports the work we are doing in Greater Manchester to make public sector services more efficient and sets a standard to better ways of doing.”
Virgin Media is also investing in Greater Manchester’s digital infrastructure through its network expansion and upgrade programmes. Virgin Media’s network in Greater Manchester now covers more than 860,000 premises and the company has invested more than £100 million and expanded its network to reach 145,000 new premises since 2015. The operator has switched on gigabit connections in the city, offering average download speeds of 1,130Mbps.
Peter Kelly, Managing Director of Virgin Media Business, said: “The support of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has been instrumental in our continued investment in the area over the last few years, leading to an expansion of our network and the delivery of next-generation gigabit speeds.
“This investment in future-proof connectivity is enabling residents and businesses across the region to benefit from new digital services, better employment opportunities, and a more integrated and efficient public sector which is transforming lives.”
The Digital Blueprint for Greater Manchester launched in February 2020 and set the bold ambition to be a world-class digital city-region. The Blueprint sets out many priorities including ensuring everyone in the region can get online and access relevant public services. It also commits to helping Greater Manchester residents become confident internet users.