This week we saw a first in 700 years as parliament took a leap into the present by conducting Prime Ministers Questions in part by videoconference. TV screens now line the inside of the chamber, the clerks who sit in front of the Speaker replaced mounds of procedural papers with laptops and just a few MPs sat spaced out on what would otherwise be tightly packed benches.
Fortunately the session went remarkably well, if a little lacking in the usual flow and energy we have become accustomed to for these sessions and of course we were missing the Prime Minister who is on the mend but still recovering from his spell in intensive care.
While I was not fortunate to have been called to ask a question on this occasion, I watched like many from home with great intrigue. In between being distracted by an array of floral wallpaper backgrounds and bookshelves, I couldn’t help but think about how drastically this virus is changing our daily working lives forever.
Working remotely from home is a luxury right now as so many are unable to continue working at all with sales drying up. For those who can work from home though, it brings new challenges and opportunities. There are no longer clearly defined working hours for example, no requirement to dress smartly (at least below the waist!), and it is laying bare the wide disparity in internet coverage and speeds across our country, especially in rural areas.
If I look across our constituency I see strong accessibility of broadband but a significant disparity in speed between urban and rural areas. Grantham for example, enjoys some of the fastest download speeds in the country and 99% accessibility, but rural villages to the north and south of the constituency are still suffering from relatively very low levels of speed.
Last year 50% of adults regularly used the internet for video calls according to the Office of National Statistics, this year I imagine that figure will jump significantly but it depends on who has the speed of connection to participate.
Coronavirus is certainly changing our perspective on how we work, but we need to ensure that everyone in our country whether in rural or urban areas can participate in this change. Improving digital infrastructure must be at the heart of government measures to re-stimulate our economy after this crisis so that we can all leap forward together.