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Council Launch Inquiry into Aylesbury Vale Broadband FTTH Rollout

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017 (10:00 am) - Score 2,099

The Aylesbury Vale District Council in Buckinghamshire (England, UK) has agreed to conduct an independent inquiry into the controversial Aylesbury Vale Broadband project, which was setup by the council to roll-out an ultrafast rural “full fibre” (FTTH) network but has since run into difficulties.

Officially AVB is supported by around £700,000 in the form of a publicly funded commercial loan from AVDC, which itself acts as a 95% shareholder (most of AVBs directors work for the council). However some reports have indicated that this investment may not have been enough, although sadly the company’s current financial status has so far been kept away from the public gaze.

Last month we wrote a long article about some of the problems that AVB has experienced (here), such as concerns around the potential overbuild of rival networks (e.g. Gigaclear and wireless ISPs like Village Networks), service performance, deployment delays, financial viability, the loss of a key Managing Director (Andrew Mills) and the status of subscriber deposits.

At the time the AVDC council also stated that they were “currently exploring expressions of interest in [AVB] and [were thus] unable to discuss any sensitive matters relating to the company,” with Gigaclear appearing to be the most likely candidate to scoop up the company (one source alleges that Gigaclear may have already made an offer that’s too good to refuse).

We were expecting an announcement to be made last week but nothing happened. Instead the 6th December 2017 council meeting (documents) saw Councillor Christensen and Councillor Mrs Harrison submit a new motion, which called upon AVDC to undertake a “detailed external audit of Aylesbury Vale Broadband.”

The new motion noted that “corporate oversight and scrutiny of these ventures has been limited which many Members are deeply concerned about. In addition there have been conflicts of interest for Directors/ Cabinet Members and their places on the boards. They have had to meet their Directorship responsibility to the commercial venture and that of the Council. Similarly the Cabinet Members have been unable to answer questions to Members of this Council, citing commercial sensitivities.”

The Proposed Audit Plan

a. Commence no later than 1 Calendar month from the sale of AVB or by the 31st of January 2018 whichever is the sooner.

b. The Audit should report no more than 3 months after commencement.

c. The report will be published in full and in public.

d. Be conducted by a qualified individual appointed by the Chief Executive but with the express agreement of all Group Leaders.

e. Include, but not be limited to, a review of the management of the business including the performance of the management team, delivery of services to target villages, performance against business plans, and the use of capital.

f. review of the oversight provided by Cabinet members and Officers while acting as Board members of Aylesbury Vale Broadband Ltd.

Today a new report on Mix 96 carries word that AVDC has agreed to setup an independent inquiry. The report includes a comment from the council’s Lib Dem Leader, Anders Christensen, who claims that AVB has “run out of money … only connected around a third of the people who gave deposits to get the service [and] didn’t hit any of the targets in the pilot phase that warranted the extra £1.3m being invested in it.”

The inquiry itself, which appears to follow the aforementioned plan, will be conducted by an external body and is expected to go through AVDC’s Audit Committee.

Councillor Janet Blake said:

“We are extremely proud of the success Aylesbury Vale Broadband (AVB) has achieved in delivering high-speed broadband to rural villages in the Vale that otherwise had no realistic likelihood of being connected by other providers.

We fully acknowledge that some customers have experienced problems and that demand for this superfast broadband service is now beyond the scope of AVB. It is for this reason that we are looking into how the company’s good work can be continued and best developed – we are hoping to announce some news on that front very soon.

It’s impossible to give an absolute value on return but, based on government figures, the economic benefit to residents and businesses could be more than £30 million by 2024 – a significant return on the £1.5 million we invested in high-speed broadband, which also included the Connected Counties project.

We welcome a review into AVB – post implementation practices are good business practice and will identify lessons that can be used in the future. The Audit Committee will now look into the operation of AVB and will report back in four months.”

We should point out that the £1.5m referenced above (the full figure is £1.536m) reflects AVDC’s allocation from the New Homes Bonus fund for the rollout of broadband in the Vale, some of which also went to the Openreach (BT) supported Connected Counties project that is a joint programme between the local authorities of both Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.

Hopefully we should learn AVB’s fate before the end of this year or at least before the end of January 2018.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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12 Responses
  1. Avatar Steve Brookes says:

    I hate to say this, but sometimes these things are best left to those that know what they are doing.
    Some very naive management by the sounds of things, based upon a lack of understanding of the industry and the deployment and commercial realities that drive it.

  2. Avatar tonyp says:

    At least the glass is in the ground to some pretty rural villages. In the (very) long term it will be paid for.

  3. Avatar Broadband Bob says:

    That is the problem. Most of the ducting is empty and a lot of the empty ducting is only just in the ground, and some of its not buried at all.

  4. Avatar Tug says:

    The AVB web site says that the assets of the company have been sold to Gigaclear. AVB will close for business on the 31st January

  5. Avatar Taxpayer says:

    It’s now May, has anyone seen the result of the inquiry?

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      It’s due to report by the end of this month.

    2. Avatar Taxpayer says:

      Tick, tock, tick, tock…

    3. Avatar Taxpayer says:

      Hi Mark, it was actually due to report by 30th April. Here’s a link to the Terms of Reference http://aylesburyvale.moderngov.co.uk/mgAi.aspx?ID=3709

  6. Avatar Taxpayer says:

    From the minutes of AVDCs audit committee on 26th March 2018: “Review of Aylesbury Vale Broadband (AVB) – Members were informed that BDO was still finalising the review and the draft report would hopefully be received by the Council in the next few weeks. As agreed at the Audit Committee meeting on 22 January 2018, Group Leaders would receive a draft of the report (for information only) prior to its submission to the Audit Committee. The special meeting to consider the report would be convened as soon as possible.

    The Chairman suggested that it might be helpful for a short Press Release, on behalf of the Audit Committee, to be issued when the agenda for the special Audit Committee meeting was published, inviting the public and all Members to attend the meeting.”

  7. Avatar Taxpayer says:

    Report now due June 4th.

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