Shropshire County Council has warned that £11.38 million of additional state aid allocated to the region under the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) extension programme, which seeks to boost the UK’s national fixed line superfast broadband (25Mbps+) coverage target to 95% by 2017, is at risk of being lost due the council’s limited finances.
Readers might recall that some councils originally struggled to meet the match funding requirements of the Government’s first BDUK allocations in 2010/11, which is unsurprising given that the proposal was made during a period of strict austerity cuts. But eventually nearly all came to some sort of agreement.
One example of this came from Shropshire’s own Telford and Wrekin council, which excluded itself from the original BDUK scheme after struggling to find enough money for it, but has recently submitted an expression of interest (here) for a proposed allocation of £1.42 million under the latest Superfast Extension Programme.
We also note that many of the BDUK projects don’t use exact match funding models and there are some variances, which aren’t always explained. Some areas might see a larger contribution from BT while others may see a council beating BDUK’s own allocation. The situation varies from place to place and most councils prefer not to discuss the details of their costing’s in public.
But according to the Shropshire Star, the central Connecting Shropshire project now appears to be facing much the same problem as Telford and Wrekin did the first time around and have already called upon the Government to relax their match-funding rules or the timescales involved. Patrick Cosgrove, a spokesman for local campaign group ‘Shropshire and Marches Campaign for Better Broadband’, has since offered some additional insight.
Patrick Cosgrove, Local Broadband Campaigner, said:
“How do you find £11.38 million matching money by the end of June? The quick answer is with the greatest of difficulty. Of course it’s great that Shropshire has been awarded £11.38 million of the Superfast Extension Programme because it desperately needs it.
It is also lunacy that we can only draw down however much we can match. Shropshire is clearly not alone in urgently needing to extend its current roll-out programme, but many other counties are far better off.
Suffolk has already committed to matching its allocation of £4.82 million from reserves. Hampshire County Council’s website tells us that they have been allocated £7.69m but have up to £9.2m available from reserves for matching. Meanwhile in Shropshire we are scrabbling for small sums of money that are unlikely to amount to very much.”
We don’t agree that match-funding is “lunacy“, especially when trying to encourage efficient use of public money, and previous BDUK schemes have suggested that there can be some flexibility in how the allocations are distributed. Councils can’t expect to have their cake and eat it, just as the private sector can’t expect a free hand-out of public money without making a similar commitment (though some BDUK projects have seen BT commit only a small slice of the total funding (e.g. Northumberland)).
Never the less Shropshire now faces a financial dilemma and time is fast running out to address it. However we shouldn’t forget that the county’s existing scheme is already working to roll-out BT’s “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) network to 93% of local premises by the end of Spring 2016, which appears to put them in a stronger position than many of the other BDUK projects. On the other hand it’s unclear what proportion of that 93% will be “superfast“.