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BDUK Change CEO as Gigabit Broadband Project Struggles with Slow Progress UPDATE2

Sunday, Jul 30th, 2023 (8:11 am) - Score 3,040

The Government’s Building Digital UK (BDUK) agency has reportedly changed its current CEO, Paul Norris, and appointed the man who oversaw the 2022 Commonwealth Games, Dean Creamer, to take on the role after concerns were allegedly raised over “slow” progress in their £5bn Project Gigabit broadband rollout.

The aim of the project is to extend networks capable of delivering “gigabit” (1000Mbps) download speeds to “at least” 85% of UK premises by the end of 2025 and then “nationwide” coverage (c.99%) by around 2030 (here). Commercial builds are generally expected to do the first 80%+, while this project focuses on the final 20% of premises (mostly rural and semi-rural areas), albeit with the possible exception of the final 0.3% (too expensive, requiring alternative solutions).

NOTE: Over 76% of UK premises can already access a fixed gigabit-capable broadband ISP network (details), which falls to 53% when just looking at FTTP (i.e. the gigabit figure is boosted by Virgin Media’s Hybrid Fibre Coax network).

So far, Project Gigabit itself has only had a tiny impact upon overall gigabit broadband coverage as the first subsidised build contracts only started being awarded a year ago, with commercial deployments (mostly in urban areas) thus doing most of the heavy lifting. Not that you’d know it to read one of the government’s (DSIT) statements, which routinely take full credit for everything.

A Government spokesman said:

“Paul Norris has had three successful years as Chief Executive Officer of Building Digital UK (BDUK). Our £5 billion Project Gigabit programme is on track to deliver nationwide gigabit-capable broadband by 2030 and we’ve already made £1.9 billion available – with more to be spent as we continue to get this help to communities that would otherwise miss out.

76% of UK homes and businesses now have access to gigabit broadband, compared to only 6% in 2019, including Portsmouth to Penrith and Swansea to Stirling, are already benefitting from gigabit-capable connections – a huge increase thanks to our targeted support in some of the most rural and hard to reach parts of the country.”

According to BDUK’s recent corporate plan for 2023 to 2026, Project Gigabit expects to have directly helped to deliver gigabit-capable connectivity to 1.56 million premises by the end of 2025 (here). The total value of all the Project Gigabit procurements launched to date (inc. those that have yet to be awarded) is around £1.4bn and rising, as more enter the pipeline (the £1.9bn mentioned above is larger because it adds even newer procurements, such as the cross-regional one).

However, as noted above, the first subsidy contracts for parts of England only started to be awarded a year ago and many big projects, such as for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, have yet to be awarded (some haven’t even entered the procurement phase yet). Some of those contracts might thus not even be finalised until late 2024 or into 2025, with build to follow.

Suffice to say that Project Gigabit itself is perhaps moving a bit more slowly than everybody, including the Government, would ideally like. The Telegraph‘s (paywall) piece highlights how industry sources claim that BDUK’s CEO, Paul Norris, was thus “pushed out amid concerns about slow progress” – something the government dispute. But we’ve long suggested that this might also be partly due to the government failing to adequately resource BDUK. Complaints about delays and slow communication are not a new problem, with network operators frequently pointing them out to us.

One thing the Telegraph does get wrong though is to suggest, using a flimsy report as evidence, that the government itself has been “ploughing money into densely populated areas that are much easier and cheaper to reach in a bid to reach its own targets.” But this seems to incorrectly conflate separate commercial investments and projects with state aid supported builds.

Project Gigabit itself has generally only been awarding subsidy contracts that hold to a tight focus on rural and semi-rural areas (i.e. disadvantaged areas where there is no commercial gigabit coverage or any rollout plans that have been identified for the next 3 years). Areas with sub-30Mbps speeds are also being prioritised, albeit NOT to the exclusion of all else (necessary to avoid a build becoming cost inefficient).

Overall, it remains unclear whether changing BDUK’s CEO will have much of an impact, although a new leader often brings new ideas – for good or ill.

UPDATE 31st July 2023 @ 7am

Small update to the government’s quote above. Dean Creamer will also formally become CEO in September 2023.

UPDATE 3rd August 2023

Clarified the reason for the difference between the £1.4bn and £1.9bn figure above.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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15 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

    I’d imagine the problems at BDUK are the usual government ones – slow staffing and recruitment when establishing the organisation, large differences between establishment strength and in-post staff, difficulty finding and retaining good project managers (due to the Civil Service’s poor salaries), vague objectives, high ministerial turnover and low quality of ministers, dreadful public procurement processes. And then there’s the organisational mass of the civil service, which means things take too long and people are not held to account for slippage. Sacking the CEO is something different to actually having aligned, cascaded objectives across the organisation, with staff both incentivised for hitting stretch targets, and made accountable for their own and the organisation’s objectives.

    Creamer will inherit a mostly designed and partly staffed organisation. Whether he can address the other aspects remains to be seen. I suspect the pressure will be on to award contracts before the next election, and that will mean paper progress, but at the expense of poor contract specification, contracts going to less than ideal contractors, poor value for money, and a rush job that fails to properly understand and balance the supplier’s profit drivers against the intended purpose and outcomes of the contract.

    1. Avatar photo A_Builder says:

      Or as one civil servant said to me last week ‘why have I got a team of arts graduates doing project management?’

    2. Avatar photo GreenLantern22 says:

      I have seen this first hand in my workplace where we are looking for IT graduates and end up having to get people who studied chemistry, biomed, history, etc which did a 3 months Cloud course and crossed over to IT. I mean there is nothing wrong with them but to me it sounds like they waster a lot of money on a degree that they end up dumping to shift their careers to IT where the jobs are. There are far cheaper ways to get into IT…

      Personally I think it’s the result of telling people “you can be anything you want” and then realising their career choices don’t really have jobs waiting for them. I am not saying you shouldn’t chase your dreams but you got to be realistic in that your chosen career might not be able to sustain average performers or might only provide a good standard of living to a select few. Not everyone can be a Premier League footballer…

    3. Avatar photo Anthony says:

      Science degrees are the biggest waste of time. You need industry experience after graduation to get the job and you cannot get the industry experience without the job. Catch-22 and a half. You cannot even volunteer as they say the risks are too great incase you do something wrong. The companies won’t train you as they just hire someone from Europe already trained. This was one of the major reasons many voted for Brexit. And then afterwards the Government just isued the points system anyway so companies could still just hire from Europe/Africa the middle east and never train anyone.

    4. Avatar photo The Facts says:

      @Anthony – or do an engineering degree course which includes a year in industry.

    5. Avatar photo GreenLantern22 says:

      Science degrees are the biggest waste of time. >> I disagree. We are hiring graduates and have started to look elsewhere since there is big competition for IT graduates and they get too greedy. But all things equal I would rather get an IT graduate over a non-IT graduate as they will have much more experience in IT technologies. Your issue with lack of work experience applies to all sectors and jobs and has nothing to do with immigration. Sometimes you can wait for people to be trained and sometimes you can’t. Dealing with training is not trivial, you need to have economies of scale to make it work. That’s why we hire from a third party company that specialises in training people crossing oveer to IT. You get to see the “finished” product and test them for real skills rather than betting on someone finishing/being good after training. Although in most cases you end up hiring on personal skills rather on how much they learnt in a small 3 months course…

    6. Avatar photo Training our own says:

      People have to be willing to start at the bottom and either articulate enough to handle the inevitable help desk position or invest in themselves, taking basic certifications in order to hit the ground running at a higher level.

      Employers can’t be expected to try and train people that don’t have basic maths skills and/or can’t string a sentence together.

      Getting a foothold in a company and working up from there still works. Might take many attempts to get that foothold but that’s life.

      I know plenty in IT that graduated in a more pure science and moved to the field after.

      Perhaps people would’ve been better served voting to increase our investment in education and early years care so that employers had more literate and numerate people to train, and people more motivated to succeed. Can’t expect the private sector to magically turn people with zero interest in anything other than living off welfare or the most menial work as they’ve zero aspiration learned from generations of the family living on the same estate into IT professionals.

      Appreciate it’s not the simple answer putting the barriers up is but, unlike that, it’d work. Taxes and inflation wouldn’t be any worse and we would actually have something to show for it at the end.

      Can’t expect business to wipe the workforce’s backside for them. We will pay one way or the other whether higher prices, higher taxes or needing immigrants to plug gaps.

  2. Avatar photo Big guns says:

    If they stopped giving money to expensive altnets too people would actually take it up. Why not give to Openreach who have the know how and the platform with the cps to provide a good service that’s affordable.

    1. Avatar photo GreenLantern22 says:

      Giving money to Altnets? All Altnets are privately funded. And if they win any BDUK contracts they done so on their own merit. May be they are undercutting Openreach below cost but why do you care if it is their money? Or do you not take any Ubber when it’s cheaper than a taxi as you don’t want to waste the investor’s money?

    2. Avatar photo Anthony says:

      The Altnets are usually significantly cheaper the Openreach. I am waiting for Grain to go live and if so I will be getting 100mb/s up and down for £15 a month. The same speed on Openreach is £35 a month.

    3. Avatar photo graham says:

      a lot of the alt nets are cheaper ie toob is £25 for 900mb symetrical, compated to bt which is £41 for non symetrical

    4. Avatar photo graham says:

      its 29.99 ( without landline ) for bt 150mb

    5. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      It doesn’t matter who gets the contracts as long as they deliver on expectations. Governments are good at pouring money down black holes that don’t deliver.

    6. Avatar photo GNewton says:

      @Anthony: “The Altnets are usually significantly cheaper the Openreach. I am waiting for Grain to go live and if so I will be getting 100mb/s up and down for £15 a month. The same speed on Openreach is £35 a month.”

      Openreach has no symmetric 100mbps products. It doesn’t use XGS-PON.

    7. Avatar photo XGS Is On says:

      Don’t need XGS for symmetrical 100. Do need a business case, though.

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