Connecting Devon and Somerset
At Devon County Council’s Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Scrutiny Committee yesterday, campaigner Guy Cashmore told members that (up to September) Devon had the lowest uptake in the BDUK Phase 2 rollout – 5 per cent compared to a national average of 25 per cent. Cabinet member, Cllr Stuart Barker, who represents Devon on the board of Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS), said that he was nevertheless confident that the target of 95 per cent of homes with super fast broadband by 2020 would be achieved.
The Committee approved a careful task group report on the rollout, with important recommendations for improved transparency, but my proposal that CDS board meetings should be open to the public (albeit with commercially sensitive discussions reserved) was defeated by 6-4.
Devon County Council managed not to spend £2 million it was supposed to contribute to Connecting Devon and Somerset’s roll-out of broadband and mobile phone coverage in rural areas, because CDS didn’t need the money. When I pointed out that many people were having to wait far too long, and asked if the money couldn’t be used to speed things up, Conservative Cabinet Member Cllr Stuart Barker said that that was up to CDS, not Devon County Council to decide.
The County’s Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Scrutiny Committee (CIRS), on which I sit, has set up a standing Task Group to monitor rural broadband and mobile phone coverage. Roll-out of broadband by Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS), which has public funds to fill the gaps where commercial providers will not go, has been slow, they say because of the providers, and CDS is not sufficiently open to public scrutiny. At the November meeting, East Devon broadband campaigner, Graham Long, complained about the issue being dealt with by a task group which meets in private. I urged the committee to be aware of the frustration felt by those still without access to reliable broadband and the need to be seen to be urgently seeking progress.
Mobile phone coverage is of great concern in Branscombe and other rural parishes in the division. Unfortunately the committee was told that mobile phone providers would not agree to talk to us. However it emerged that the Heart of the South West Local Economic Partnership (LEP) has earmarked £2.5m to address phone coverage issues, although they have not yet decided how.