Communications, infrastructure and the launch of the business bank

Jason Ford

News editor

This morning’s bus ride to work was dominated entirely by smartphone and its 3G service, which afforded me a very thorough read of this morning’s main news stories.

Fitting then that a number of telecommunications landmarks are being celebrated this year, not least the 175th anniversary of Cooke and Wheatstone being awarded a patent for their electric telegraph.

Needless to say, this development marked the start of an evolutionary shift in communications that would eventually give the world the telephone, radio, sound and television broadcasting, satellites, personal mobile communications and the internet.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has been in touch to let us know that its holding a one-day symposium today where experts will present on this and other developments in UK telecommunications.

Further anniversaries in 2012 include the centenary of the opening of Britain’s first automatic telephone exchange in Epsom, the 50th anniversary of the launch of TELSTAR, and 75 years since Alec Reeves began developing his ideas for pulse code modulation.

Still with communications and news that many consumers aren’t likely to be satisfied with the government’s Universal Service Commitment (USC), which aims to make a minimum broadband speed of at least 2Mbps available to everybody in Britain by 2015.

A survey conducted by asked over 1,600 internet users about their broadband requirements, with 81.5 per cent of respondents claiming they require a minimum real-world broadband download speed of 10Mbps. Only 4.7 per cent considered 2Mbps to be adequate.

In a statement Mark Jackson,’s founder said, ‘It seems increasingly pointless to set such a low target when Europe’s own Digital Agenda expects 100 per cent to have access to a download speed of at least 30Mbps by 2020.

‘If the new culture secretary, Maria Miller MP, really wants the UK to have the ‘best broadband of any major European country by 2015’ then she might need to step up and raise the minimum target.’

A politician was found making positive noises last night at a fringe event of the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton.

Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, used the Infrastructure Alliance Liberal Democrat event to announce the creation of a new National Infrastructure Plan Strategic Engagement Forum [NIPSEF].

Designed to bring government and industry together to help deliver the UK’s infrastructure needs, NIPSEF will launch this autumn and will be co-chaired by the chief secretary of the Treasury and Dr Nelson Ogunshakin OBE from the Infrastructure Alliance.

By bringing together key stakeholders NIPSEF is expected to help ensure delivery of the National Infrastructure Plan.

The Infrastructure Alliance used the conference to announce the publication of a report entitled Avoiding the Infrastructure Crunch: Getting Britain working.

In a statement the Infrastructure Alliance said the UK’s economic recovery could be held back if fears of an emerging crisis in the UK’s infrastructure sector are realised.

Traffic congestion, uncertainty on how the country’s future energy needs will be met, and the current downturn is putting the industry’s skills base at risk, according to the alliance.

To avoid this, a four point plan has been drawn up which requires:

  • Immediate action to stimulate ‘shovel-ready’ maintenance and minor works
  • Analysing future demand for skills to ensure the UK has a world class infrastructure workforce available to deliver projects
  • Rebalancing investment throughout the UK to rebuild activity in communities and support a more even economic recovery
  • Development of greater consensus on the country’s infrastructure needs and how they can be best delivered and paid for

Positive noises for SMEs too with the launch today of a business bank that is expected to support up to £10bn of business lending.

Announced by business secretary Vince Cable, the bank – with £1bn of government funding – is expected to provide loans, including long-term capital, to UK firms through banks and other financial institutions.

In a statement issued earlier today Cable said, ‘For decades British industry has lacked the sort of diverse, long-term finance that is quite normal elsewhere. We need a British business bank with a clean balance sheet and a mandate to expand lending rapidly and we are now going to get it. 

‘Alongside the private sector, the bank will get the market lending to manufacturers, exporters and growth companies that so desperately need support. It will be a lasting monument to our determination to reshape finance so it can finally serve industry the way it should.’

Finally, the Royal Institution has announced its autumn programme, which gets underway tomorrow evening and concludes on November 30.

Tomorrow’s launch event, hosted by Jim Al-Khalili, is entitled Paradox: The nine greatest enigmas in science. Click here for more details.