Boris Johnson has been accused of trying to bury bad news after the government quietly ditched his pledge to give all homes superfast broadband by 2025.
The prime minister came under fire from business and telecoms chiefs as the small print of the chancellor’s spending review revealed that planned spending on the roll-out of the technology had also been slashed from £5bn to £1.2bn.
Labour said Johnson had been caught “sneaking out” the abandoned target and the spending cut as the country focused on plans for new coronavirus tiers.
Up to 5 million people are set to lose out as a result and critics have pointed out that high-speed broadband is needed more than ever during the coronavirus pandemic as home working becomes the norm.
The Tory election commitment to deliver “gigabit-capable” broadband to every home and company across the UK within five years was a landmark pledge, bringing forward by eight years a similar goal of predecessor Theresa May.
Johnson repeatedly campaigned on the promise, which he said was a central part of his “levelling up” agenda to make rural and urban parts of Britain ready for a post-Brexit future.
The broadband pledge was first made in his speech on the steps of Downing Street when he first took office. He had ridiculed May’s own 2033 timetable as “laughably unambitious”.
The manifesto boasted: “We know how difficult it will be, so we have announced a raft of legislative changes to accelerate progress and £5 billion of new public funding to connect premises which are not commercially viable.”
But buried in this week’s spending review was a sharp drop in planned spending. The accompanying National Infrastructure Strategy confirmed the target of 100% of homes with superfast broadband by 2025 had been watered down to a “minimum of 85% coverage” by that date.
The strategy said that the government would “seek to accelerate roll-out further to get as close to 100pc as possible”.
Shadow digital secretary Jo Stevens...