Delivering change – how cities can make the most of digital connections

The steps leaders can take to ensure places benefit from the social and economic opportunities offered by digital connectivity

Digital connectivity has played a role in changing the economic, social and physical fabric of UK cities. Full fibre connections to every home and 5G coverage will continue this change in some ways we can predict, and others we cannot. Cities need to prepare their built environment and human capital to take advantage of this.

This report, supported by Telefónica UK, provides examples of how cities in the UK and around the world are making the most of their digital connectivity. It also sets out a number of recommendations on how national and local leaders can support UK cities to take full advantage of existing digital connections and to successfully deliver new and improved digital infrastructure in the coming years.

Making the most of existing digital connections:

  • The Government should deliver on its promise to devolve responsibility for the Adult Education Budget to cities. This would give places more resources to help residents acquire the digital skills needed to take advantage of jobs resulting from digital connectivity. It will also ensure that firms can access the workers they need to capitalise on these developments.
  • Cities should embrace the opportunities that existing digital technology offers to better manage services. For example, Salford City Council has adopted a ‘digital first’ customer strategy, making it easier for residents to interact with the council on public services, and upskilling staff to use digital technology. Other cities should also consider how they can use digital connections to innovate and transform public services.

Delivering new digital infrastructure in the coming years:

  • The Government’s new National Planning Policy Framework should require all new housing developments to include the provision of high-quality digital infrastructure – mobile and fixed. This will reduce disruptions, costs and delays in the delivery of new digital connections. Cities should also integrate plans for full fibre and 5G into future public realm developments.
  • National leaders should review the Electronic Communications Code (ECC) after 12 months, to ensure it does not deter investment in digital infrastructure. The ECC was introduced by the Government last year to cut costs and delays in new digital infrastructure but has reduced cooperation between landowners and mobile operators. The Government should ensure these issues do not hamper ongoing delivery of 4G and rollout of 5G in UK cities.

This report has kindly been supported by Telefónica UK.