While Johnson peddles broadband pie-in-the-sky, Devon Conservatives’ delivery plans have exploded – and his Chancellor failed to confirm that £18m funding is still available to pick up the pieces!

Posted on Updated on

connecting-devon-and-somerset

Viewed from Devon, the most laughable of all Boris Johnson’s election wheezes is his promise to get ‘full-fibre ultrafast broadband’ into all homes by 2025.

“Without any detail it is just a pledge,” says Andrew Ferguson, editor-in-chief of broadband comparison site ThinkBroadband. “The key to getting excited is dependent on what the pledge means in terms of help for commercial roll-outs and extra funding to ensure that areas unlikely to see commercial roll-out for a number of years can be moved forward.”

No one will be getting excited in rural Devon. The County Council Scrutiny committee on which I sit has been following a long saga of failure by Connecting Devon and Somerset, the quango supported by the two Tory-controlled counties to deliver to a large swathe of difficult-to-reach properties.

We found out on Thursday, after questioning from myself and other councillors (watch the webcast), that

  1. Contracts given to Gigaclear, supposed to have been completed in December 2019 but cancelled in July after many months of fruitless re-negotiations with the company (with only 1 out of 5 contracts completed), will not be put out to tender again until 2020.
  2. There will need to be a 12-month tender process to find a new contractor.
  3. The earliest a new contractor will start will be later in 2021.
  4. Although CDS has asked for the £18.7m funding to be renewed until 2023, Johnson’s chancellor, Sajid Javid, didn’t mention it in his recent funding statement which in any case – because it was designed purely to showcase election gimmicks – only covered the next financial year.
  5. So CDS cancelled the Gigaclear contracts without even knowing that they would have the money to replace them.
  6. Even if the funding is restored, officers agreed that the 2023 target is likely to prove unrealistic for a new contractor.

So we are looking (at best) at something like a 5-year overshoot, and even if it is completed, the CDS programme would still leave thousands of homes in Devon and Somerset without ‘full-fibre ultra-fast broadband’ which Johnson promises, as it was never designed to reach every household.

And while Johnson promises pie-in-the-sky, his government’s election-boosting funding statement has just caused a further delay to the botched programme, making the job of picking up the pieces in Devon even harder.

Months ago, the Cabinet member responsible, Rufus Gilbert – who was conveniently absent on Thursday – described Devon’s broadband crisis as a ‘mini-Brexit’. If the Tories can’t get local broadband right, hold your breath as they hurl us towards the national cliff-edge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s