Grantham and Stamford MP Gareth Davies had asked Mr Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday about support to get the county’s economy running again through better broadband.
He asked: “As we look at our long-term economic recovery, can he (Mr Johnson) assure me that Lincolnshire will receive the required funding to boost digital connectivity for all the people of Grantham, Stamford, Bourne and our local villages?”
Speaking on the first year anniversary of becoming party leader, Mr Johnson replied: “Yes, indeed I can, which is why we have pledged not only £5 billion in funding for gigabit-capable broadband across the country, including the hardest-to-reach areas, but additionally a £34 million package for Lincolnshire superfast broadband, helping 135,000 households to benefit from gigabit-capable speeds.”
However it turns out Mr Johnson was merely repeating the news of money previously awarded.
Sleaford and North Hykeham MP, Dr Caroline Johnson had been eager to celebrate the news on social media, saying: “Working from home has made connectivity even more crucial, especially in rural areas. This is great news for Lincolnshire!”
However, Lincolnshire County Council has been leading the roll out of the superfast broadband programme across the county to link up properties with better internet connections, via its On Lincolnshire scheme. In a response which poured cold water on the grand fanfare, a council spokesman said: “Unfortunately, we’ve since had confirmation from BDUK (the Gov’s body on this) that the reference in Parliament yesterday was actually the amount of funding spent thus far in Lincolnshire via contracts 1 and 2.
“On that basis, it is money already utilised, hence the reference to upgrading 135,000 premises (which in reality was 172,000 premises upgraded under our programmes.
“However, BDUK has said that ‘significant investment’ is to come, but is a good way from being finalised in terms of how much, where and when.”
Dr Johnson was not deflated and responded: “It’s extremely promising that much needed improvements to rural broadband are being actioned, with 172,000 premises being upgraded in Lincolnshire.
“Only a few weeks ago, I visited BT Openreach engineers in Sudbrook, where they are currently in the process of putting in ultrafast fibre broadband as part of the upgrade programme. I am also continuing to feed in details of locations where the broadband is causing problems and would urge anyone in my constituency still experiencing difficulties to get in touch directly with the details.
“All of this is possible because this Government has pledged £5 billion to support the rollout of gigabit capable broadband in the hardest to reach areas of the country, supported by new legislation to accelerate its delivery to millions of homes. I will continue to press for investment in rural broadband alongside my fellow Lincolnshire MPs to keep this vital work going.”
Simon Beardsley, Chief Executive of Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “For most of us over the past four months we have been working from home and for many that will continue or we will see the flexibility around office working, meaning connectivity is even more crucial especially in rural areas of Lincolnshire.
“We have already seen an allocation of money spent in Lincolnshire which saw 172,000 premises upgraded under the Lincolnshire County Council programme, but reliable digital connectivity is one of the most basic requirements for any business and is often a deciding factor and the missing jigsaw piece when businesses are deciding to relocate to Lincolnshire, making it all the more important to see that clarity from government around future investment into Lincolnshire.