Aspirations and concerns about mobile phone and broadband coverage in West Cornwall were put to the minister for Digital and Culture at a breakfast meeting in Penzance earlier this week.
At the invitation of the local Conservative candidate Derek Thomas, representatives from the motor trade, beauty business, caring and medical professions, farming, scaffolding, advertising, financial planning and tech start-up businesses provided a wide range of views to Matthew Hancock at Waves Café in Causewayhead.
While most of those attending confirmed that Broadband coverage was improving, a common cause for complaint was the variable strength of mobile phone signals in the area.
Mr Hancock admitted that there were ongoing issues and recognised that the technology was not, for many people, living up to their expectations but stressed that improved and reliable digital connectivity would ensure that Penzance of the best connected towns in the UK, and West Cornwall remained a “great place to live”.
He was hopeful that the Digital Economy Bill, the last Act to receive Royal Assent before the General Election was called, would give the Government greater powers to speed up the process of giving everyone in the country, no matter where they lived, a decent Broadband and mobile phone service.
The Government has set a target that 95 per cent of homes in the country should have access to Superfast Broadband by the end of 2017 and the Minister also encouraged people to use the Ofcom Mobile Coverage Checker to make sure they received the best possible mobile phone signal.
“If we are asking farmers and rural businesses to fill in their tax returns online, we have to give them a decent service – connectivity has to reach everybody,” he said.
“Fibre To The Property (FTTP) is what we are going to need and it is my job to get the cables into the ground as soon as possible,” he said.
“Penzance is one of the leading lights in terms of FTTP connectivity and we will use the lessons we have learned here across Cornwall and the rest of the UK.”
Derek Thomas commented: “Progress has been made to improve the Broadband service in West Cornwall where there is more FTTP than elsewhere.
“The reality is that more must be done and there is an urgent need to give people the mobile phone signal they deserve.
“This is something that the Minister have been working on for the last two years so I am pleased that Matt could meet some of the businesses and residents that really need good coverage.”
One of those attending, Julia Forbes, from Bliss Beauty in Morrab Road, said: “My business requirements are very basic compared with some other firms but I very much welcomed the opportunity to speak to the Minister and talk labout what the challenges are.
“We desperately need to get a good, basic mobile phone service and I hope I was able to give him that message.”
Nigel Pengelly, who was recently re-elected as a Penzance town councillor and also runs a media/public relations company, said: “It was great to hear what the minister had to say.
“For the future of tech companies reliant on good connectivity, it was very encouraging to hear that the government is taking steps to rectify the issues we have had.”
After the meeting at Waves, Mr Hancock was taken to the Penlee House Gallery and Museum by Mr Thomas where they were shown round the current exhibition, ‘A Casket of Pearls: Celebrating 20 Years of Collecting’ by the gallery director, Louise Connell.