02 Feb 2024

FarrPoint release survey revealing UK local authority connectivity priorities for 2024

FarrPoint's second annual survey of digital leaders at councils across England, Wales, and Scotland reveals gigabit broadband rollout remains a top priority for local authority digital leaders, but 5G continues to divide opinion and that more focus must be on net zero.

Conducted in December 2023, respondents were asked about their priorities around fixed and mobile connectivity, and barriers preventing progress. Councils were spread across both dense urban and rural areas. 

The report highlights the importance of digital infrastructure in delivering public services, supporting economic growth, and improving social inclusion. As well as emphasising the need for collaboration between industry, government, and partners to achieve digital transformation goals. FarrPoint's Connectivity Survey encourages debate and sharing of experiences to help reach the UK government's gigabit-capable broadband to be available nationwide by 2030 and for all populated areas to be covered by standalone 5G by 2030.

Some key findings included the following:

  • Getting more areas covered by gigabit broadband remains the top connectivity priority for council digital leaders for the second year running. 47% of respondents chose it as their number one priority, with another 30% as second. Getting 100% of their area covered by at least super-fast connectivity is featured as the second highest priority for councils.
  • 51% of councils who responded have an up-to-date digital connectivity strategy (up from 43% in Jan 2023), but around 11% still have no digital connectivity strategy at all and almost 1 in 3 (30%) don’t have a digital champion.
  • The importance of 5G continues to divide opinion. Even though respondents said 5G was important to them, none picked 5G as their top priority for 2024. Ensuring more areas covered by 4G was also ranked as a higher priority than 5G on average, suggesting that the business case and additional benefits that 5G could potentially deliver have not yet been widely demonstrated.
  • Despite the importance of climate action, for the second year running, aligning digital connectivity to net zero targets was ranked as the lowest priority by respondents. There was even a slight increase (from 2% to 6%) in respondents who said net zero was ‘not important’ to the digital department.
  • Local infrastructure deployment challenges – such as issues around street works, permits and inconsistent planning processes – overtook a lack of central government funding as the biggest perceived barrier to improved digital connectivity.

Dr Andrew Muir, Chief Executive at FarrPoint, said: “This is the second year of our connectivity research with local authority digital leaders, and it was interesting to see what’s changed – and what hasn’t – since our last report a year ago.  

“Some great progress has been made on digital connectivity within councils, but there are still areas for improvement.  For example, it was clear from the responses that many local authorities are under significant financial pressure, which is, at times, leading to a reduced focus on supporting the digital connectivity rollout and take-up of services.

“It was disappointing to see that local issues, such as the planning process and permits, were seen as this year’s biggest barrier to improving digital connectivity. I’d encourage councils to work together with other public bodies, central government and telecoms operators to tackle these challenges, because they are definitely surmountable.

“During the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, councils could also be doing more to encourage take-up of improved connectivity services among their residents. There’s a widely held perception that these are unaffordable, but we’ve seen many cases where improved services are just as cheap, or even cheaper, than existing services.

“I also hope to see a change in approach to net zero, to reflect the pivotal role that better connectivity can play in achieving the country’s environmental targets. Net zero isn’t someone else’s problem – digital departments can make a significant contribution.”

For further information, please contact: Kristina Vard, Head of Marketing.