Broadband for Devon and Somerset – the (fantasy?) saga continues

As we said before, if Devon and Somerset can’t work together on this, how on earth can they hope to work together successfully on anything else? And DEFINITELY things here for DCC’s Scrutiny Committee!

Press Release from Graham Long
Chairman, B4RDS (Broadband for Rural Devon & Somerset)

This open letter has been emailed (November 22nd), to all Devon & Somerset MP’s, from B4RDS (Broadband for Rural Devon & Somerset), prior to an MP’s meeting in Westminster, Nov 25.

Dear Member of Parliament,

Open letter to all Devon & Somerset MP’s concerning Connecting Devon & Somerset (CDS).

It is my understanding that Keri Denton and CDS Board Members Cllr Andrew Leadbetter plus others will be meeting with Devon & Somerset MP’s on or about Wednesday Nov 25th in Westminster.

You will be told how well the CDS broadband programme is going and be encouraged to secure more money for CDS. You will also be enlisted to help them get special EU State Aid (GBER) approval because of their failure to meet the June 30 umbrella state aid deadline .

THIS PROGRAMME IS OUT OF CONTROL. The attached two B4RDS press releases will give you the background.

Questions you need to ask CDS and CDS Board members are:

1) Why did Keri Denton say “How long is a piece of string?” when asked what the current Phase 2 programme schedule is by the DCC Place Scrutiny Committee on Nov 16? Devon & Somerset are now THE ONLY counties in England not to have a Phase 2 contract in place after they abandoned negotiations with BT in June and then missing the June 30 deadline for EU State Aid approval. CDS are currently unable to give DCC Scrutiny a firm schedule for when they will have a Phase 2 programme in place outside of the two National Parks.

2) Will Phase 2 be completed by the end of 2017? Cameron, Vaizey and Whittingdale have all committed to 95% superfast broadband coverage, nationally, by the end of 2017. There is now a snowballs chance in hell of that deadline being met in Devon & Somerset. On Nov 16, Keri Denton told DCC Scrutiny that she hoped to have Phase 2 in place by the end of 2016. This will mean that having spent two years trying to find suppliers they will give the companies awarded Phase 2 contracts, only 12 months to complete the project. This will not be achieved.

3) Why have CDS & DCC not secured committed Phase 2 match funding from Devon District Councils? When Phase 2 negotiations with BT collapsed in June 2015, CDS was only offering BT £35M for a contract that BDUK estimated would cost £41M to deliver, as shown on the BDUK website. For DCC & SCC to claim that negotiations collapsed because BT was not offering value for money is at best disingenuous and at worst a lie. (After deducting the £4.6M National Parks Airband contract from the fully matched £45.5M [=2x£22.75M] BDUK allocation, £40.9M should have been available to BT, not £35M). Each Somerset District Council committed an average of £500k each but not one Devon District Council committed a penny. As a result the project has stalled. Somerset District Councils now have a seat on the CDS Board as a result, but Devon District Councils remain unrepresented. County and District Councils in every county in the UK have managed to work together on this, with the exception of Devon! Devon & Somerset’s “Devolution Statement of Intent” (Slide 6) has the gall to describe the CDS programme as one of the two counties successes!

4) Why have CDS not obtained any Phase 1 clawback monies from BT? In July the government announced that a total of £129M in clawback payments were being paid back by BT to county run broadband programmes. Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincolnshire and Cambridgshire have already obtained £5.3M, £3.9M, £1.1M and £5.3M respectively in clawback payments from BT. CDS is the largest county run such programme in England and to date has obtained nothing in clawback from BT, which Keri Denton confirmed to DCC Scrutiny on Nov 16. Based on NAO and PAC reports during 2013 & 2014, it is calculated that CDS is due over £9M from BT which can be claimed in advance of reaching the 20% threshold, provided it is reinvested with BT. This is enough to connect another 60,000 properties under Phase 1. In response to the Nov 16 Scrutiny Committee, Keri Denton says that BT have offered to pay back £4.5M to CDS but she then said she did not know how the money was calculated! She must know how it is calculated! – It is in the Phase 1 BT/CDS contract! Even more worrying, the CDS Board Action notes of October 6 (attached – see highlighted text) state that the Board decided not to claim clawback from Phase 1 until after a Phase 2 contract is secured at the end of 2016. WHY? In September, Cllr Andrew Leadbetter told DCC Scrutiny that CDS could do a better job now they do not have the June 30 state aid approval deadline to work to! Do they not understand that people in rural communities are desperate for fast broadband NOW. If there is more money to expand Phase 1 coverage now, why wait until the end of 2016 to claim it? DCMS have shown that the ROI on superfast broadband investment is 20. On HS2, it is 1.7. Investment in broadband is a no-brainer!

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  1. Pingback: Devolution: Independent DCC Councillor Claire Wright and East Devon Alliance express grave concerns on the process | East Devon Watch

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