TORIES ACCUSED OF ‘SCAREMONGERING’ AS LABOUR MOVE TO ADD MORE RURAL HOMES TO DIGITAL BROADBAND ROLL OUT
‘The danger is that if Northumberland Conservatives get their way an estimated 700 rural holes may miss out on broadband roll out’ – Scott Dickinson, Labour Councillor for Druridge Bay
Labour councillors in Northumberland have reacted with dismay over claims by Conservative group leader Peter Jackson that the decision by the council to ‘claw back’ over £700,000 in broadband funding to plug a gap in digital coverage in the most rural areas.
Councillor Jackson wrote to Labour group and council leader Grant Davey to complain the ‘claw back’ would ‘promote a county which is divided into haves and have nots’.
Now Councillor Davey has come out fighting accusing Conservative group leader of ‘scaremongering’, and has insisted that the ‘clawback’ was in response to concerns that BT would not roll out fibre optic schemes to the most rural areas because ‘it wouldn’t be cost effective’.
Councillor Davey went on to state;
‘If we don’t act then we will most definitely find our most rural areas frozen out of the broadband revolution. Councillor Jackson is once again, shooting from the lip and I’m sure Conservative councillors who represent rural wards will question the value of creating yet another scare story for party political purposes’.
Labour are pointing out if they follow the Conservative leaders opinion then 700 rural homes face a ‘broadband shut out’.
Councillor Scott Dickinson, the Business Chair of the authority and councillor for rural Druridge Bay said
‘We’re seeking to meet the potential gaps in coverage under the BT contract negotiated by the last administration and we think that by using the claw back from BT we can make broadband available to more rural locations than originally envisaged. It’s disappointing that Councillor Jackson and Northumberland Tories have picked this issue up to make political capital. This judgement call comes fast on the back of their rash pledge to find £100m to resurface all roads in the county’.
• Councillor Jackson has written to Council Leader Grant Davey seeking answers to a number of questions.
• While the letter was not marked ‘confidential – not for circulation’ – it will only be available if Councillor Jackson agrees to its publication – we presume he’s got nothing to hide so will agree.
• The new administration, as part of its ‘value for money’ investigation has sought external support to look at the IT budget and its application to ensure that the authority has secured ‘value for money’. Initial estimates indicate that the IT budget was over £30m in the last year of the Liberal administration.
• Councillor Jackson, in his letter to Mr Davey said that ‘you seem to be intent on promoting a county which is divided into the haves and the have-nots, a county characterised by "digital exclusion" for all those who live in the most secluded areas’.
• If the authority did not claw back resources from BT then some rural communities would not get broadband. As a result of this decision, it is estimated 700 homes who would not be upgraded if we followed Councillor Jackson’s logic. He really needs to attend more meetings and make more advantage of leaders briefings.
Broadband – The Facts
1. BDUK have allocated Northumberland of £650k for the Superfast-broadband Extension Programme (SEP).
2. This allocation is from a £250M fund earmarked to bring counties up to 95% coverage.
3. They have used an allocation model that suits denser population areas and a solution to upgrade the remaining BT street cabinets to Fibre to the Premise (FTTC).
4. Unfortunately there are not many cabinets within rural Northumberland to be upgraded.
5. This is due to the fact that much of the Northumberland rural telecoms infrastructure is built without cabinets, using what we call direct Exchange Only lines.
6. I expect we have a high number of Exchange Only lines and these premises will not receive any upgrade under this funding.
7. The £650k funding will not get Northumberland near the 95% coverage figure.
8. There are approximately 15,000 premises in the remaining none-superfast areas, known as the remaining 9%.
9. There may be an alternative separate DEFRA scheme with BT to identify the next round of affordable premises they can connect.
10. This plan may provide a solution and would connect the next most affordable premises using a fund of £784K to connect 428 premises (which is 0.3% of the county).
11. If that level of funding was secured the £650K SEP funding which needs to be match 50:50 giving a total of £1.3m could connect at best a further 700 premises.
12. This additional 700 premises may get the county up to a coverage figure of 92% (previously at 91% contracted to BT).
13. Later in the year BT should have a new model using Fibre to the Remote Node which should significantly improve the coverage capability.
14. In addition the ability to use capital clawed-back from the existing BT contract by improving broadband take-up could be used as the capital match.