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Shropshire Unable to Solve Broadband Funding Woes via Growth Fund

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 (8:02 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 429)
shropshire bduk broadband rollout map

The Shropshire County Council (SCC) has been dealt another blow in its on-going attempts to secure £11.38m of funding to extend their coverage of superfast broadband to 95%+ by 2017 after the UK Government refused to allow the council to match the funding allocation by drawing on £7.5m set aside via the new Local Growth Deals.

At present the existing £24.6m Connecting Shropshire (England) scheme is already working to deploy BT’s “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) network to 93% of local premises by the end of Spring 2016 (except Telford & Wrekin), which forms part of the Government’s wider Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme.

Earlier this year BDUK proposed to allocate an additional £11.38m of state aid to the region under its Superfast Extension Programme, which aims to make fixed line superfast broadband (24Mbps+) speeds available to 95% of the population by 2017. But during May 2014 it was revealed (here) that SCC was struggling to find the necessary funding (all councils are required to match-fund with the Government’s allocation).

One seemingly now forlorn hope was that Shropshire might be able to solve the problem by drawing on new funding allocated through the Government’s Marches Growth Deal, which has put £7.5m of its £75.3m budget aside for improving broadband connectivity.

The recently revived Telford and Wrekin plan for better broadband from BDUK (here) was also planning to tackle its own funding issues by using the Growth Fund and is still intending to bid for it, although an outcome is not expected for several months. But the latest newsletter from a local campaign group reveals that this approach could also be at risk of failure.

Shropshire and Marches Campaign for Better Broadband – Update

We’ve reported extensively on the difficulties that Shropshire Council faces in finding the matched money for the second phase of rural broadband roll-out. We’ve also explained how the long-awaited Growth Fund allocations to Local Enterprise Partnerships might have been able to provide some of that matching. Shropshire Council was hoping for that, as was this campaign.

We now learn that the Council and the Marches LEP were advised by the Department for Communities and Local Government that none of the £7.5m can be used for broadband infrastructure in the current year, which is when it is required, yet astonishingly, other parts of the country can use it now, including Norfolk and Worcestershire. There’s also uncertainty about its use for broadband infrastructure in 2015/16.

For a county with such well publicised difficulties over broadband matching we wonder why Shropshire MPs weren’t on the ball, and what they can do now to rectify matters. Telford and Wrekin and Herefordshire Councils were also hoping to use some of the £7.5m so they must be pretty sore about this too.

Worryingly, Cornwall County Council has overmatched its Phase 2 allocation by £2.96m and West Yorkshire has done the same by £6.9m. The implication here is that if Shropshire can’t draw all its money down, the cash could be shifted to those two counties (and probably others) who can use more than they’ve so far been given.

[Local MP] Owen Paterson now has much more time on his hands and says that he will continue to be very vocal from the back benches. Perhaps he could begin by being very vocal about this right old muddle in which Shropshire seems to be a loser.

A separate article in the Shropshire Star newspaper also appears to confirm the situation, which leaves the council in a somewhat uncertain funding position as it continues to hunt for a solution. Sadly all of this comes at a time when the local authority needs to find £60m of savings for the next three years.

Meanwhile one of the more radical approaches could be for Shropshire to abandon the plan to extend their existing project with BT and instead support an alternative proposal from Broadway Partners, which would leverage private investment to match with the additional BDUK funding and without costing the council directly (details). The result would be to deploy an ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) solution, albeit with wireless being used to temporarily fill in the gaps.

In the meantime SCC are still discussing the situation with BDUK in the hope of finding a solution, which means that the proposed allocation won’t be redistributed elsewhere just yet but time is slowly running out.

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12 Responses
  1. Chris Conder

    The whole project called ‘digital britain’ is a mis-managed superfarce. Its time to wake up and realise we are being sold a donkey (fttc) with a jet plane label. It isn’t fibre unless its fibre to the home, and patching up old phone lines is a complete waste of public money. Altnets like Broadway Partners, Gigaclear, Hyperoptic etc should get the funding and provide real competition, then BT have to shape up or ship out. Too many councillors and politicians have been taken in by the hype, and the regulators are pretty useless, comprising of mainly ex bt suits and public school tickboxers.

  2. Gadget

    Chris – assuming that companies (whoever they are be it altnet or the bigger infrastructure providers) went down the route of fibre to the home what are you going to say to the customers who current are getting significant improvements in speed through this “donkey” product, but will not have gotten any benefit because the money doesn’t stretch to doing them all with FTTP?

    • Chris Conder

      I would say to them, now you have tried the fttc, and now you have seen how much better fttp from an altnet is, why not join the altnet? That is what I would say Gadget. That will make BT up their game, and stop messing with old phone lines, because they would lose their market very quickly. Its only because there is no competition they are getting away with it. Yes a great many people are going faster with fttc if their cab is enabled and if they live close to it and if their phone lines are fairly new, but it is only and upgrade from walking to riding a donkey. The real boost a fibre can give is like moving from walking to a jet plane.

    • Gadget

      Chris I agree FTTP is faster, but that wasn’t the question. The question is where are you going to get the money from to take FTTP to the same number of people for whom FTTC would be making a difference? Put simply if for a given sum you can do 100 FTTP customers or 400 FTTC customers what are you going to tell the 300 who will not be getting any improvement if you go FTTP?

  3. Sledgehammer

    When BT come to the end of BDUK funding and the last cab is active, how many people will be able to get FTTC. I bet it will not be any where near 90%.

    • gerarda

      I think it will come down to a choice as to how much money is spent on the 90-95% superfast target and how much on the 2Mbps USC. As the latter appears to have been uncosted in the BDUK contracts I suspect that 1. The 90-95% target will become premises “passed” not ones able to get superfast and 2. The USC will be deemed to have been met on the recent definition change that “universal” is now “virtually all” i.e. it means whatever the govt decides it will mean

  4. adslmax

    I agree FTTC isn’t fiber – all FTTC fund to BT is waste of public tax payers. I don’t believe UK will get 99% coverage by FTTC by end of the roll out by BT.

    • JNeuhoff

      “I agree FTTC isn’t fiber – all FTTC fund to BT is waste of public tax payers”

      Totally agree, I said the same on the thinkbroadband forum, only to be called names by a super troll. The truth hurts, but it’s time to face the facts. The BDUK has been a real farce.

  5. DTMark

    “one of the more radical approaches could be for Shropshire to abandon the plan to extend their existing project with BT and instead support an alternative proposal from Broadway Partners, which would leverage private investment”

    Well radical. Not throwing away taxpayer’s money and actually attracting private investment to also get the benefits of competition? Who’d have thought it..

    • Gadget

      According to the editorial this would still need BDUK money just not the council as well.
      If it works great, if it doesn’t then you have the scope for an even bigger failure like that of Selling Village or Digital Region.

    • dragoneast

      I suspect if the consumer pays enough, you can (almost always) leverage private investment. Superfast Broadband, whatever the consumer price, anyone?

    • FibreFred

      Well done DTMark the first on-topic post 🙂

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