The Liberal Democrat Cabinet on Bath and North East Somerset Council has been forced to look again at its decision not to bid for Government funding to improve broadband connections in the area.
A cross-party panel of councillors this week unanimously agreed to ask the Cabinet to reconsider its decision not to join with Bristol and South Gloucestershire Councils in a bid for Government funding to deliver superfast broadband to areas which are not seeing fibre-optic cables installed. The meeting was held after Conservative councillors ‘called-in’ the Liberal Democrats’ original decision and means that the Cabinet will now have to hold a public meeting to decide whether to stick with its original decision or to reverse its position and join in the broadband bid.
At the meeting, Conservative councillors argued that delivering fast and reliable internet connections throughout the area is a worthwhile investment to boost the local economy and ensure equality of access to broadband. The meeting also heard from residents and business owners from the local area who called on the council to invest in broadband, highlighting that many villages only receive speeds of less than 1mb.
Cllr Martin Veal (Cons, Bathavon North), who led the call-in of the Cabinet decision, said:
“Delivering fast and reliable broadband to all communities in Bath and North East Somerset is hugely important to supporting our local economy and ensuring equal access to this increasingly vital service. Conservatives have argued that delivering superfast broadband throughout the area will help small businesses and enable more people to work from home. At the meeting we heard passionate statements from residents, Parish Councils and local businesses who all agreed that we must invest in Broadband and secure the Government funding which is on offer.
“If we do not grasp this opportunity then B&NES faces being left behind our neighbouring authorities who are investing in Broadband, and we will simply see the inequality of service provision increase. I’m therefore very pleased that the panel agreed to give the Cabinet a chance to change its stance on this issue. We hope the Cabinet takes this opportunity.”
Conservative Shadow Cabinet Member for Sustainable Development, Cllr Patrick Anketell-Jones, sat on the call-in panel and moved that the matter be sent back to the Cabinet. He said:
“The panel agreed to ask the Cabinet to reconsider its original decision because this issue is clearly so important to residents throughout our area, as was demonstrated by the number of people who came along to speak at the meeting. We have an opportunity here to work with our neighbouring councils to put forward a robust bid to secure Government investment. Yes it will mean the council putting in its own funds as well, but at a time when we desperately need to boost our local economy this would clearly be a worthwhile investment. In the years ahead, residents will increasingly rely on the internet to access services and businesses will need high-speed broadband in order to serve their customers and grow. There is potential for significant growth in our creative industry, hi-tech industries, and the small businesses in our rural communities; but we have to act to realise this potential.”