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!
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
- 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.
- There will need to be a 12-month tender process to find a new contractor.
- The earliest a new contractor will start will be later in 2021.
- 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.
- So CDS cancelled the Gigaclear contracts without even knowing that they would have the money to replace them.
- 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.