£2.5m HoTSW money to improve mobile coverage in SW – but some operators say they don’t need the investment
At Devon County Council’s Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Scrutiny Committee yesterday, I asked how and when the £2.5m that the Heart of the South West Local Economic Partnership obtained to eliminate ‘not-spots’ in Devon and Somerset would be used.
Keri Denton, Head of Economy, told me that it had proved difficult to plan an effective intervention, as some mobile operators had told the Council they didn’t need the investment. She said, however, that others were interested, and they were continuing to look into how the money could be used to improve mobile coverage.
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.