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Shropshire UK Struggles to Afford £11.38m Superfast Broadband Extension

Sunday, May 4th, 2014 (8:14 am) - Score 604

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“.

Leave a Comment
11 Responses
  1. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove says:

    Of course it’s lunacy when large swathes of the countryside are left with ageing, barely functioning technology because where they are to be found is entirely an accident of the state of their local authorities’ finances. Tell the businesses that may be forced to relocate that this isn’t lunacy. Tell the parents whose children can’t complete their homework that this isn’t lunacy. Tell the farmers who have to drive to their local library to complete their DEFRA returns that this isn’t lunacy. Tell Joe Public who has increasing difficulty pulling up a website that this isn’t lunacy. The situation has arisen because BDUK handed BT an over-generously funded monopoly that failed to extend superfast broadband to the parts it otherwise could have done. £790m deployed competitively and imaginatively could have connected everyone, but now those in areas that can least afford the cost of this government’s shambles are paying the price. That is an excellent definition of lunacy.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      That’s more an issue of the policy approach.

  2. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove says:

    Well, yes. But the reaction if Shropshire does get left behind becomes more of a political issue, and our campaign is happy to make it that if required.

    1. Avatar NGA for all says:

      My understanding is that £16m subsidy has been committed to meet an intervention area of 55,000 premises. c275 cabinets at public subsidy of >£50k each which is at the extreme end of true.
      Have the council produced and published any reports like North Yorks where they are paying £47k subsidy a cabinet/fibre path?

      The PAO report in Februaruy Page 9, paragraph 13 says ‘ BDUK does not have detailed cost data per cabinet and path but told us it will soon be able to collect real deployment costs to gain a better picture on actual costs’.

      If this statement is consistent with not actually checking BT’s invoices, then perhaps Shropshire CC could do worse than actually analyse the invoice data for a single handover point and attached cabinets.

  3. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove says:

    P.S. Mark, it would be useful to know which other local authorities are having similar difficulties. Do you have that information? Or maybe your readers could let me know on patrick@cosgr.plus.net.

    1. Avatar NGA for all says:

      Have you another email address?

    2. Avatar PeterM says:

      possibly …plus.com (?)

  4. Avatar gerarda says:

    Matched funding may not be lunacy but what is lunacy is spending money first upgrading a service on which the take up is only expected to be 20% and having those is need of a basic service left to the end.

    Of course when this lunatic decision was taken the Government was being told by BTOfcom that ADSL was universally avaiable

  5. Avatar Matthew Williams says:

    This is sad if people have to suffer poor internet connectivity in one of the more rural counties in the UK. Hopefully money can be found to benefit people.

    1. Avatar NGA for all says:

      Or the invoices are analyised so the subsidy reflects a proportion of the incremental cost, see last PAC report from Feb, page 9, paragraph 13.

  6. Avatar PeterM says:

    Perhaps time for the population of, and media in, hundreds of areas of the country, to lobby their MPs that funding for HS2 rail is so much money that could be better used in other ways.

    Shropshire and other parts of the country could easily be funded for fibre to every home, for less than the HS2 budget ( not that I would propose that – FTTC seems a far easier and sensible in the interim, and allows those who are interested to upgrade).

    Wide area Wi-Fi might serve flatter, rural areas ie not Highlands or large parts of the North and Wales, in the longer term.

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