Cabinet members were tonight asked to approve a proposal put forward by Cllr Shirley Smart to select BT as preferred bidder for a Rural Broadband project.
“Subject to contract finalisation”
Cllr Bacon seconded the proposal, saying he’d “thought long and hard about the project”. He conceded there were “an awful lot of issues and contentious points”, but added that “ultimately it was important support for rural areas on the Island”.
He went on to highlight the phrase in the paper, “subject to contract finalisation”. Adding that requirements for coverage and speed would be written into the contract, leaving the IWC adequately protected. He said he didn’t think BT would sign up to a contract if they knew they it couldn’t be met.
He finished by saying, “the importance of what could be achieved outweighs the risk and the risks can adequately be dealt and managed with.”
Cllr Priest read out a statement on behalf of Cllr Jon Gilbey, who was absent from the meeting, expressing his support for the project. Cllr Priest echoed the statement adding his support to the proposal.
Reservations about the proposal
Cllr Jordan raised several points of concern saying he had, “enormous amount of reservations” about the project from start to finish.
He started by questioning those who stated that not going ahead with the scheme would affect the Island’s chance of achieving Assisted Area Status.
He questioned the job creation, the economic benefit to the Island and claims that what would be provided is ‘Super Fast Broadband’. He also expressed concerns about the level of financial commitment being made by the council when the match funding by BT was just 24% of the total cost.
Cllr Jordan pointed out that as the target for BT was to reach 20% of the 20,000 rural properties, this equated to the council investing over £3m for the benefit of 4,000 properties.
Defer the decision
He finished by saying that he’d prefer the decision to be deferred for two to three months, on the basis that the next cabinet meetings already had busy agendas and he’d like to make further enquiries about the matter.
This proposal was seconded by Cllr Medland who agreed with Cllr Jordan’s view that many items in the proposal needed clearing up.
Creating a private monopoly
Cllr Medland also expressed concerns that the council were relying on BT for information about the bid, adding that the council could benefit from some ‘neutral information’. He was equally concerned about the effect on competition, that a positive decision could be creating a private monopoly.
He finished by saying that the his concerns were shared by Cllr Hillard, Cabinet member for Sustainability.
Cllr Kendall remained unconvinced
Cllr Kendall added that he was ‘torn’ over the issue and ‘remained unconvinced by case being presented’.
However, he was concerned the message that non-participation may give.
Pressure from Government
Stuart Love sought to clarify many of the points raised and finished by saying that the council was under pressure from the Government to sign the contracts.
If deferred, it could also delay BT’s schedule to complete the work by two to three years which would mean losing the Government funding.
The amendment to defer the decision was voted upon.
Cllrs Smart, Bacon and Priest voted against the deferment, Cllrs Jordan, Medland, Kendall and Stubbings voted in favour.
The issue will be discussed at one of the two Cabinet meetings in September.
See how the Overview and Scrutiny Committee felt about the proposal.
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