Broadband Roll Out – Councils ‘yet to get’ Government Cash
A survey of English councils that are commissioning high-speed broadband access in rural areas has found many have yet to receive their share of a half billion pound government fund. Only two of the respondents said they had been given any money by this March.
The government has allocated £530m to help meet its aim of delivering broadband to virtually all of the country by the next election in 2015.
But a survey of councils found that just over £3m had been transferred. The Countryside Alliance submitted Freedom of Information requests to every English local authority and received responses from all but six of the groups of councils responsible for delivering rural broadband. “We feel that the government have been talking the right game and we welcome the money but the action and support for local authorities and the delivery of local authorities has been very limited,” said the Alliance’s Sarah Lee.
A Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) spokesman said: “Following procurement, we are at the beginning of the nationwide delivery stage, so it is to be expected that most local authorities are not at the stage where they would have claimed the money allocated to them. “Work is underway in sites across the country and we are confident the vast majority of projects will be completed by 2015.”
But the DCMS is understood to be considering a shake-up of the project.
Asked about the future of the government body in charge of the scheme – Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) – a government source said “all options are on the table”.
No decisions have been taken, but some within the DCMS are questioning whether civil servants – who it is feared lack “commercial nous” – are best placed to conclude the project.
Reports in the FT and the Daily Telegraph have suggested BDUK could be spun off as a private company. The DCMS is bidding for extra capital funding in the current spending review.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller commissioned an internal report on the project at the start of the year and another report, said to be critical, is due to be published by the National Audit Office shortly.
The Treasury minister Lord Deighton, who was the chief executive of the Olympics body LOCOG, is also examining the scheme. In Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, administration of the projects is undertaken by the devolved administrations.