Report sent to East Devon Watch:
‘More ‘best practice’ was evident at EDDC Scrutiny Committee at Knowle yesterday evening (12/11/2015). From the start, Chair Roger Giles (Independent, Ottery St Mary) insisted that presentations should be brief and not include the reading out of information that had been circulated to councillors in advance. Using questions and answers was a more useful tool for this committee , he advised.
This proved correct straightaway, in the close examination of Devon’s broadband provision. Five stakeholders had been called to speak and answer questions. They were Andrew Moulding, Chair of Devon County Council’s (DCC) Place Scrutiny Committee and Deputy Leader of East Devon District Council (EDDC); Cllr Phil Twiss, EDDC Corporate Services portfolio holder; Paul Coles, BT Regional Manager, South West ; Phil Roberts, Programme Manager for superfast broadband delivery, Connecting Devon & Somerset (CDS) ; and Graham Long, Upottery Parish Councillor, with 20 years’ experience with Hewlett Packard, for whom he ran the EU support network.
Questions included one sent, in her absence, from Cllr Susie Bond (Independent, Feniton & Buckerell), asking why the broadband situation in parts of her constituency was “appalling”. Particularly intense questioning came from Cllrs Marianne Rixson (Independent, Sidmouth Sidford Ward ) , and Val Ranger (Independent, Newton Poppleford & Harpford),who had clearly done their homework, both closely referring to the document submitted by CDS, and finding some apparent inaccuracies (e.g. Could the audit done by EDDC’s internal auditors, SWAP, properly be described as ‘independent’?). Cllr Ranger wondered why, of 26 interested parties in 2014, only two had submitted a formal tender.
Phil Roberts (CDS) reported that CDS had decided not to sign a second contact with BT, and that there would now be a different approach to tendering . For the next phase, CDS were currently looking at other providers , as well as talking to BT, he said.
Much of the time, Cllrs Moulding and Twiss looked uncomfortably out of their depth, not least when it emerged that EDDC and DCC had not worked together to obtain maximum funding, thereby missing out on millions of pounds.
Graham Long, “astonished to find how slow broadband is in Devon”, explained that “Fibre is best for reliability, speed and bandwidth. But fibre-to-cabinet works as an urbancentric solution. It doesn’t work in rural areas”. Cllr Ben Ingham (Independent, Woodbury & Lympstone) told the Committee, “I’m really flabbergasted that BT are picking the poor relation of technology”.
The broadband issue is certain to continue. Next Monday DCC’s Place Scrutiny Committee will hear CDS feedback on its recommendations (14h00, County Hall, Exeter). More questions and answers are no doubt being prepared!’