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.
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Boris Johnson’s senior advisor said “People think, and by the way I think most people are right: ‘The Tory party is run by people who basically don’t care about people like me.’”
Voters are right to think Tory MPs largely do not care about poorer people or the NHS, according to Dominic Cummings in comments that have emerged from two years ago.
Boris Johnson’s new senior adviser and a key architect of Brexit gave his damning view on Conservative MPs at a conference in 2017, where he said: “People think, and by the way I think most people are right: ‘The Tory party is run by people who basically don’t care about people like me.’ (View article here)
‘This situation is not of our making’, Tory DCC Cabinet member says at the Council meeting. I remind him that many Tory councillors voted for Johnson – and some for the Brexit Party in the European elections. You helped to create the ‘No Deal’ threat. Now own it, I tell them.
You can watch my speech here