Opposition politicians in Bath and North East Somerset are calling on the Council’s Liberal Democrat Cabinet to reconsider its decision not to bid for Government funding to improve the area’s broadband internet connections.
The decision, taken by the Liberal Democrat Cabinet two weeks ago, has been officially ‘called-in’ by Conservative councillors, with one of the Labour Group’s councillors also signing the call-in. This means that the Cabinet’s decision will be reviewed by a cross-party panel of back-bench councillors within the next couple of weeks. The panel will then decide whether to uphold the council’s original decision not to bid for the broadband funding, or whether to send the matter back to the Cabinet and ask them to reconsider.
Conservative councillors have criticised the decision by the Liberal Democrats not to join with Bristol and South Gloucestershire Councils in their bid for Government funding, which could total over £1.4 million for the West of England alongside the council’s own investment. Conservatives have argued that the Council should not be missing out on an important opportunity to improve internet connections in the authority’s more rural areas and villages.
The Government has earmarked over half a billion pounds in total to improve broadband throughout the country in areas where the market is unlikely to deliver superfast broadband.
Cllr Martin Veal, the Conservative Shadow Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods, who is leading the call-in, said:
“By deciding not to join with our neighbouring councils in their bid for Government funding to improve local broadband the Liberal Democrats are sacrificing an important opportunity for our area and could leave Bath and North East Somerset trailing behind the rest of the Westcountry. Are we really content to be confined to the slow-lane of the Information Super-Highway?
“We are urging the council to reconsider this decision and have initiated this call-in to put pressure on the Cabinet to listen to the needs of our rural and village communities. It is true that the Council would have to put in its own funding alongside the Government investment, but at a time when we need to encourage jobs creation, the economic benefits this would bring clearly outweigh the costs. Fast, reliable broadband internet will become increasingly important to creating a modern, dynamic local economy, and this is just as vital to our small businesses, farmers, and people who work from home as it is to large companies in cities, especially for the web-dependant creative sector.”