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Aylesbury Vale Broadband Fallout Claims Scalps of Senior Councillors

Friday, June 29th, 2018 (8:20 am) - Score 1,689

The troubled Aylesbury Vale Broadband project in Buckinghamshire, which was supported by Aylesbury Vale District Council via a £1.44m publicly funded commercial loan before being sold to UK ISP Gigaclear, last night contributed to the resignation of AVDC’s Leader, Neil Blake, as well as his wife (Cllr Janet Blake).

The AVB scheme, which was controlled by AVDC (95% shareholder and most of its directors also worked for the council), originally set out to deploy a “full fibre” (FTTP/H) ultrafast broadband network to cover several rural villages in the heavily rural Aylesbury Vale area. But good intentions don’t always make for the best approach.

Unfortunately the project ran into difficulties (here) with the potential overbuild of rival networks (e.g. Gigaclear’s FTTP was targeting some of the same areas, while a couple of fixed wireless ISPs were already present in certain parts) and other concerns also emerged over performance, deployment delays, long-term financial viability, the departure of a key Managing Director (Andrew Mills) and the status of subscriber deposits.

In December 2017 a deal was finally reached that resulted in the sale of AVB’s network assets to Gigaclear (here), which in turn pledged to support and continue the local rollout. Despite all this the council’s leadership continued to hail AVB as a “success,” which was put into sharp context after the Audit Committee published its report earlier this month and laid bare many of the project’s mistakes (here).

The council has since accepted the Audit Committee’s report and the matter was due to be discussed again at 7pm last night during an extraordinary meeting of the council (here). Ahead of that event Cllr Janet Blake, who has also been under pressure after she voted on a planning application for a developer where she had a financial interest, took the decision to resign from her cabinet post.

Shortly after that it was announced that her husband and AVDC’s Leader, Neil Blake, had similarly resigned from his position (seemingly related to AVB).

AVDC Statement

Councillor Neil Blake has today resigned as Leader of Aylesbury Vale District Council.

In accordance with the council’s Constitution the Deputy Chairman, Councillor Angela Macpherson, will discharge the functions of the Leader until such time as a new Leader is elected by Council.

Meanwhile Gigaclear have already committed to “completing the network builds” by end of September (Q3 2018) in Stewkley, Oving, Drayton Parslow and Swanbourne (this should cover the “majority of residents” in these areas), although taking on another network’s assets can be complicated and we wouldn’t be surprised if that slipped a bit. Apparently they will then start evaluating other areas in the vale for a future deployment.

However a big question mark still remains over the council’s future liabilities after their sale to Gigaclear. In cash terms, the Council has already been found to have made a net loss of £185,495 on its investment in AVB but this could still rise by the end of 2018 if Gigaclear finds that all was not quite as promised.

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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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10 Responses
  1. Avatar John Nolan says:

    An example of local government “playing”, methinks?

  2. Avatar Steve Jones says:

    I suspect anybody who thinks the council’s loss will stop at £185,495 is being rather optimistic.

    From the start this always sounded suspect. Just how the accounts of a company almost wholly owned by a local council can be so opaque strikes me as scandalous. The potential for conflict of interest were surely obvious. I’m sure it was all done with good intentions, but it looks shambolic and amateurish.

    nb. I’m not an AVDC council tax payer, but my mother is, so I’ve taken some interest in this.

  3. Avatar A Builder says:

    Well the inception of this was in the great nothing happening period of UK broadband where FTTC seemed to be almost the only game in town and FTTC was not suited to most of this. The other Alt Nets were not firing on all cylinders yet.

    So I would look at it from the point of view of somebody tried to do something otherwise nothing would happen. Probably with very good intentions. Someone who got sucked into some over optimistic costings and probably should have known better.

    Balancing that I am pretty amazed that a council had such a poor grasp as the cost of civils as in my experience there are plenty of people in councils who know pretty accurately the cost of trenching by the meter and reinstatement etc. Lets face it they fix these things on a daily basis.

    Compared to a lot of other council money pits that I can think of this wasn’t that stupid or that much of a pit as these things go.

    1. Avatar Roger Carey says:

      Other altnets not firing on all cylinders? There was a gentleman’s agreement, proposed by AVB and AVDC that if Village Networks stopped work in the AVB area (we’ve been firing on many cylinders since 2003), AVB wouldn’t attempt to overbuild Village Networks. We honoured that agreement. AVB didn’t. And Rapid Rural was delivering higher speeds than AVB, over wireless, in the same patch – they didn’t fall for the gentleman’s agreement pitch – and connecting people often a a greater rate than AVB were. The ‘altnets not firing on all cylinders’ story was one concocted by AVDC and AVB, repeated endlessly in the hopes that it would become true, and still being touted today. Many hundreds of happy altnet subscribers in the area would disagree.

      And, for the record, that gentleman’s agreement was nothing to do with collusion. It was an enlightened approach to delivering the fastest broadband to most people, soonest, without wasting money on overbuilding.

    2. Avatar Gadget says:

      I understand the desire to make the most efficient use of money but frankly I’m worried that any agreement written, verbal or gentleman’s could be taken by some including the authorities as breaching the UK Competition Act. see https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/477569/SME_Compliance_At-A-Glance.pdf – under “dividing up and sharing markets”

  4. Avatar A Villager. says:

    We were supposed to be getting AFFORDABLE hi-speed broadband,Gigaclear is NOT.

    1. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      If the council hadn’t dabbled you would have been covered by BDUK instead. This was not a good use of public money.

    2. Avatar chris conder says:

      Gigaclear is affordable, you are paying for a far superior product. You will get what you pay for and your property will be futureproof. The alternative superfarce may be cheaper but it is the difference between a supersonic jet and a clapped out old donkey being whipped to go faster. You pays your money and makes your choice. Lots of folk, especially in London are happy with donkeys.

  5. Avatar Ray Noble says:

    A former independent chair of the AVDC standards committee I am saddened to read this news, but I am not at all surprised that standards have slipped since the independent standards regime was scrapped by the government just a few years ago. Standards committees no longer have genuine independent representatives and are chaired by a member of the council. How the pubic can have trust in such a system is brought into question once again. We seem to have gone backwards on standards in pubic life.

  6. Avatar Taxpayer says:

    Anyone know how we will find out how much of the Escrow account gets repaid to Gigaclear? And quite how Andrew Grant (AVDC Chief exec) has escaped with his job is beyond me…

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