On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP carried out the first major reshuffle of his ministers since the general election in December. The Financial Times reported that Boris Johnson appointed trusted allies to key ministerial positions in a move that rewarded loyalists and punished those who Number 10 believe have failed to deliver. The Brexit balance of the Cabinet has shifted slightly away from hardline Brexiteers, with prominent Leave campaigners Andrea Leadsom and Theresa Villiers replaced by ministers who supported Remain. Replacing Theresa Villiers, George Eustice has been appointed Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Alan Brown (SNP) asked on 3 February what is the cost to the public purse of the roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband by 2025. Matt Warman (Con) answered on 11 February that the Government has pledged £5 billion to support the rollout of gigabit-capable networks to the hardest to reach parts of the country. In addition, the Government’s £200m Rural Gigabit Connectivity programme is already supporting rollout of gigabit broadband in rural areas. This funding will be targeted at the premises where operators are expected to commercially invest, to ensure that no part of the country will be left behind. In addition to this, £49 million of funding for the Wave 3 Local Full Fibre Networks project has been successfully bid for since the last budget. This is on top of the previously announced £53 million of funding.
Mr Richard Holden (Con) asked the Department for Education on 10 February what steps the Government is taking to ensure cross-education authority travel provision is provided in rural areas to increase the school choice available to parents. Nick Gibb (Con) answered on 13 February that there are additional rights to free home to school transport for children from low income households. These are known as ‘extended rights’ and are intended to help low income families exercise school choice in circumstances where transport may otherwise be a barrier. A local authority is required to provide free transport to pupils eligible for free school meals or whose parents are in receipt of maximum working tax credit.
John Nicolson (SNP) asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 10 February what steps the Treasury is taking to ensure free access to cash for people in rural communities. John Glen (Con) answered on 13 February that the Government has launched the Joint Authorities Cash Strategy Group – bringing together the Payment Systems Regulator, Financial Conduct Authority, and Bank of England – to ensure comprehensive oversight of the overall cash infrastructure.
Jamie Stone (Lib Dem) asked on 13 February what steps the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is taking to monitor the progress of the rollout of superfast broadband to rural areas. Matt Warman (Con) answered on 13 February that progress has been made in the Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross constituency. Six years ago, just four per cent of premises had access to superfast broadband; that figure is now 78 per cent. The Government has also provided Highlands Council with £4.2 million to deliver full fibre networks to public sector sites in Inverness, Fort William, Wick and Thurso.
In a debate on transport infrastructure on 11 February, Simon Hoare (Con) asked whether the Prime Minister is taking into account, with regard to rural bus provision, the fact that social mobility in rural areas needs a boost. Boris Johnson (Con) answered that rural need and rural sparsity will be taken into account as these buses will help ?people to get to work and give businesses the certainty and confidence that they can invest in a town, in the knowledge that they can employ people who can commute easily.
On 13 February, Kevin Hollinrake (Con) tabled a debate about what steps the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is taking to help deliver a shared rural mobile network. Matt Warman (Con) responded that the Government announced support in principle for the mobile network operators Shared Rural Network programme (SRN), which will see those operators collectively increase 4G mobile coverage throughout the UK to 95 per cent by 2025. Although the SRN is not yet finalised, the Prime Minister has made improvements to rural mobile coverage a key part of his ‘first 100 days’ pledge.
Parliament has risen for recess, it will return on 24 February.
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