A Labour government would pump an extra £75 million into getting high-speed broadband to “neglected” rural areas, the party pledges today as part of a concerted effort to woo the countryside vote.
Ahead of the opening of its annual party conference in Brighton today, Labour will also underline its opposition to the Royal Mail sell-off that the Opposition claims will leave rural towns and villages with a second rate service.
And Mary Creagh, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, will tell conference tomorrow the party will halt the expansion of badger culling to curb bovine TB if it wins the 2015 general election.
Today’s broadband pledge involves raiding a struggling £150 million fund for making cities “super-connected” and handing the cash to projects to get the last 10% of rural areas decent internet speeds.
Ministers have committed to 95% of people in all local authorities to have a “superfast”broadband connection by the end of 2017.
But Labour wants to divert £75 million from the “ultra-fast” broadband programme in urban areas – which gives cities speeds four times faster than in the country – so good broadband coverage is more evenly spread.
Last week, the Western Morning News reported Liberal Democrat Farming Minister David Heath bemoaning a “man with a stick” would deliver a better service than broadband in his rural Somerset constituency.
Mrs Creagh said: “David Cameron says the economy is doing well but for most people things are still getting harder. This government’s botched rollout of broadband means people in the countryside are twice as likely to be offline as people in cities.
“Even the Farming Minister has admitted that the government’s plans for rural broadband have failed. Labour will transfer £75 million to help get neglected communities online and able to take advantage of broadband.”
Towns and villages in the rural South West fear being left behind urban Britain thanks to inadequate connections. As part of a £1 billion state investment in the technology, a £50 million scheme in Devon and Somerset has a 90% of all properties “super-fast” target by 2016.
The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly £132 million project, funded by EU subsidies, wants 95% of premises up to speed by next year.
Meanwhile, the planned £3 billion flotation of the Royal Mail will undermine the universal service obligation – delivering to every home – as a lack of profit in remote deliveries would mean post dwindles or postage becomes too expensive, Labour argues.
The Government insists the six-day-a-week service is enshrined in law and second-class post will not cost any more, and has criticised Labour for not saying whether it should be returned to public ownership.
In her keynote address tomorrow, Mrs Creagh will renew Labour’s opposition to the badger cull that is being piloted in two areas in the South West. Pledging to block any further roll-out risks angering farmers in favour of the plan to stop badgers spreading TB, but it is likely to win favour with protesters, led by celebrities including musician Brian May.