A £5 billion investment to roll out faster broadband across the UK by 2025 is expected to be confirmed by the Chancellor in this week’s Budget.
Rishi Sunak, who has been in office for less than a month, will outline his financial plan to MPs on Wednesday amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus crisis.
The Conservatives pledged at the election to bring full fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business in Britain within five years.
Mr Sunak is set to use his first Budget to confirm the £5 billion investment, which he hopes will benefit more than five million homes and businesses.
Gigabit broadband, which is 40 times faster than standard superfast broadband, will be rolled out to the hardest to reach 20% of the country, the Treasury said.
The Chancellor is also expected to announce a £1 billion deal with the mobile phone industry to boost 4G coverage across the country – with the biggest improvements likely to be in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
The deal will provide extra coverage to 280,000 premises and 16,000km of roads, the Treasury anticipates.
Mr Sunak said: “We are committed to levelling up across every region and nation in the UK and that is why we are making the largest ever public investment into broadband.
“This investment delivers on our promises to the British people, boosting growth and prosperity across the country.”
Former chancellor George Osborne urged Mr Sunak to make Wednesday’s Comons speech the “Budget for the coronavirus” in a bid to prevent the spread of the deadly disease sending shockwaves through the economy.
Mr Sunak told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the Government was ready to deliver “whatever action is required” to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak, and pledged to give the NHS the resources it needs to respond.
His predecessor Mr Osborne said businesses would also need immediate financial support, especially those facing a loss of income or having to continue to pay sick or self-isolating staff.
“If I was chancellor, and I’m sure Rishi (Sunak) is thinking like this, I don’t want some complicated scheme that is going to be working in six months’ time,” the former Tory MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“I need to use the tools that are available to me right now to help people who are unable to work because their business has shut or they are self-isolating or they have got the virus, and to help those small and medium-sized businesses that will have very limited cash reserves and therefore could go into bankruptcy.
“It is a short-term help. It is not like we are going to have 10 years of this.”
The Chancellor on the weekend refused to confirm whether he will stick to the fiscal rules – parameters to limit tax and spend excesses – set out in the Conservative manifesto as he looks to deal with coronavirus while also investing in the country’s regions.
The party pledged at the election that it would not borrow to fund day-to-day spending and would ensure debt is lower in five years’ time.
But Mr Sunak said he could not “comment on the exact forecast until Wednesday”, though told the BBC: “I believe very much in the importance of fiscal responsibility, about responsible management of our public finances.
“And as I’ve made the point before, it’s because there’s been very strong management of public finances over the last 10 years by successive Conservative chancellors who have made some difficult decisions that means I can sit here today and say I will invest what it takes to get us through this because our public finances are in a good spot.”
Among other measures expected to be included in the Budget are:
– A £643 million package of investment to help rough sleepers off the streets and support them to get their lives back on track.
– Up to £100 million more per year will go towards the fight against “dirty money”, with a new levy on firms regulated for anti-money laundering.
– Millions more for state-of-the-art football pitches in hard-hit communities.
– A new neonatal pay and leave entitlement for parents of sick newborn babies.
– A review of the “Green Book” – the manual used by ministers to allocate investment and make investment decisions across the country.
But shadow chancellor John McDonnell condemned the Government’s investment policies, saying they are “nowhere near the scale we need”.
He told the BBC he is concerned the Budget will not deliver “what we need” for the NHS, as he warned the country faces three emergencies: coronavirus, a “crisis” in public services and the “existential threat” of climate change.