Connectivity issues under spotlight at business breakfast

Seven people standing in front of a projector screen.

More than 20 business leaders from Penrith and the surrounding area met together as part of a joint initiative between Westmorland and Furness Council’s Economic Development and Regeneration Team and Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.

The business breakfast at North Lakes Hotel, Penrith comprised presentations by invited speakers and a round table discussion.
Business leaders, representing a range of companies from the manufacturing and service sectors, had the opportunity to hear from two guest speakers who provided a detailed insight into the range of digital connectivity opportunities being provided in Westmorland and Furness.

The business breakfast also offered guests the opportunity to discuss a range of topics with senior figures from Westmorland and Furness Council, including the council’s Leader, Cllr Jonathan Brook; chief executive, Sam Plum, and Cabinet Member for Sustainable Communities and Localities, Cllr Virginia Taylor.

Subjects discussed included the council’s new UK Shared Prosperity and UK Shared Prosperity Rural Funding programmes, planning framework in the Westmorland and Furness area and how localised planning boards could help decision making, recruitment and training of a young, diverse skills based workforce in the region and how to attract and retain businesses.

In addition, Cumbria Chamber of Commerce were able to highlight the extensive range of training and networking opportunities that can be accessed through the Chamber’s various business-focused programmes.

Cllr Brook said: “Promoting sustainable, inclusive, economic growth is a key priority for Westmorland and Furness Council as an essential component in supporting the delivery of high-quality jobs, attracting investments and skilled people, retaining our young people and new business creation.

"It was great to attend this first Business Breakfast event along with the Chamber of Commerce and talk directly to businesses to hear what they need and what we as Westmorland and Furness Council can do to support them.

"Keeping this dialogue open and listening to what we are told will be crucial to our future success and I look forward to many more such events in the future."

Jonathan Harries, programme director at Connecting Cumbria, provided a detailed overview of the work his team is doing in Cumbria to secure government investment through the county’s Digital Infrastructure Strategy 2020-2025.

A number of different projects are being run which include helping communities to receive gigabit connectivity through voucher-funded projects, facilitating gigabit capable connections to eligible hub sites, overseeing the regional pilot for Project Gigabit to deliver gigabit capable broadband where there is no commercial provision or community voucher projects planned, mobilising Digital Borderlands programmes to benefit Cumbria, working with the Shared Rural Network and Home Office 4G mobile programmes to maximise investment and work with partners on 5G research and development projects.

Connecting Cumbria will work with Westmorland and Furness Council to develop its own digital infrastructure strategy for implementation in 2026.

Dean Jooste, director of Stakeholder GB at Fibrus spoke about his companies work to deliver a fibre network throughout Cumbria.

Created in Northern Ireland, Fibrus has a growing presence in northern England employing more than 400 locally-based employees and helping to create a further 400 indirect jobs through its sister company Viberoptix.

Fibrus is helping to link 60,000 premises in Cumbria’s rural areas to fibre broadband via Project Gigabit along with growing it’s urban presence in towns such as Penrith, Kendal, Windermere, Ambleside and Barrow. To help train employees in a range of tech focused specialised skills Fibrus has launched a Training Academy at Newton Rigg near Penrith which has the capacity to train up to 90 operatives over a three-year apprenticeship period.

It is hoped other business breakfast events will be staged during this year. All businesses are welcome to attend.