B&NES risks ‘missing boat’ on Broadband bid

Bath and North East Somerset Council risks losing out on Government funding to improve the area’s broadband internet connections, because the Lib Dem-run authority still hasn’t made a final decision on whether or not to bid for the Government cash.

B&NES Council’s delay in making a decision on whether to join a joint-bid with Bristol and South Gloucestershire councils for the Government funding has already meant that South Gloucestershire is now planning on joining with Wiltshire and Swindon in its BDUK bid instead. This means that if B&NES is to join the bidding process, it is likely that it will now have to look to other councils such as Somerset, Devon or even Cornwall and work with them to access the Government funding.

However, the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has warned councils that they only have until the end of February to decide whether to join the bidding process, or risk losing the Government support altogether.

Conservatives in Bath and North East Somerset have slammed the council for these continued delays, warning that it risks letting the area slip behind while other authorities invest in superfast broadband. It had been hoped that a report on the topic would be considered by the Lib Dem Cabinet at its January public meeting after it delayed making a final decision on the matter at its December meeting. However, no report has been included in the Cabinet Meeting Agenda for January, meaning the earliest the Cabinet will now take a decision is in early February.

Cllr Patrick Anketell-Jones, the Conservative Shadow Cabinet Member for Sustainable Development, said:

“If the Council isn’t careful, B&NES will miss the boat entirely on this opportunity to improve our area’s broadband and won’t be able to access Government funding. Thanks to the indecision of the Lib Dem Cabinet, B&NES has already lost the option of joining with neighbouring South Gloucestershire Council, as they are now planning on linking up with Wiltshire and Swindon instead. This means B&NES is running out of options and makes it even more pressing for the council to take a decision to join a funding bid with other councils.

“This makes it all the more worrying that the Cabinet won’t be taking a decision at its meeting in January on whether or not to join the broadband bid, having already delayed a decision in December. The Government has warned that councils only have until the end of February to make up their minds, so we are urging B&NES to take an urgent decision on this important issue before it’s too late. Otherwise our area will be left behind while all our neighbours are delivering this investment.”

The Liberal Democrat Cabinet on B&NES decided in September not to join the BDUK bid with Bristol and South Gloucestershire Councils. However, this decision was called-in by Conservative Councillors who argued that delivering fast and reliable broadband connections will be vital to supporting the local economy in the years ahead and is essential to ensuring equality of access to this service in rural areas. At their December meeting, the Liberal Democrat Cabinet reconsidered the matter in light of the call-in being upheld and agreed to delay a final decision on whether to join the broadband bid pending a further report to be presented at a future Cabinet Meeting