Gift Focus - Jan/Feb 2020 (Issue 117)

182 Poor connection Martin McTague, FSB chairman of Policy and Advocacy, talks about the potential repercussions of poor mobile or broadband connection, and what the Government needs to do to tackle the issue Imagine that you’re part way through a conversation with a potential new client, when the phone signal starts dropping out and eventually the line goes dead. Or you’re attempting to take a card payment from a customer and have to go and stand in the car park just to get signal. Unfortunately, for some small business owners these stories are all too common – and ones that come up time and time again when we talk to our members all over the country. The sad fact is that so many small business owners are still struggling with an unreliable internet connection, poor phone signal – or even both. This is frustrating enough when you’re trying to talk to friends or family on the phone or send them an email, but when your business relies on a good connection, it can cause real problems – impacting on productivity and even stunt the growth of a business. New Federation of Small Businesses research found that more than one in three small firms have been prevented from contacting or being contacted by existing customers – or even potential new clients – due to poor broadband and mobile phone connection. Worryingly, a similar number told us it has been a barrier to growing their business, while over a quarter of small firms said it has led to a loss of business or sales. When you consider that a third of firms say they struggle with broadband speeds that are not sufficient for their current business needs, and two in five say their broadband is not good enough for their future needs, it’s no surprise that this is impacting so heavily. And the situation with mobile connection is not much better, with our research showing almost half of small firms cannot get a good connection on their mobile phones. Unsurprisingly, this figure rises in rural areas of the UK. URGENT PRIORITY There’s no doubt that improving digital infrastructure across the UK is an urgent priority. The way we do business has changed, with many small firms embracing digital technology to ramp up their productivity. The growing use of e-commerce and the fact that an ever-increasing number of Government services for businesses are being delivered online demonstrates just how key improving our digital infrastructure really is for small firms. Improvements are urgently needed, so it’s encouraging to see a political focus placed on the issue this year but we now need to see some of these promises coming to fruition. Government is promising ambitious full fibre and gigabit capable broadband targets, ensuring full fibre is rolled out across the UK by 2025. This is, of course, very much welcomed, but must quickly translate into action to help the millions of small businesses currently hindered by poor connections. The Government needs to remember that there are still a huge number of small firms that don’t receive download speeds of at least 10 Mbps. This is the figure Government terms as a ‘decent’ connection – announced four years ago way back when David Cameron was Prime Minister. We want to see a full commitment to making sure every premises receives at least that by the end of 2021. This is regardless of whether or not they have proactively asked to be connected under the Universal Service Obligation (USO), which