Wi-Fi (Swindon)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:50 pm on 22nd March 2010.

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Photo of Barbara Follett Barbara Follett Minister of State (the East of England), Regional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (the East of England), Department for Communities and Local Government 8:50 pm, 22nd March 2010

I think authorities should have in place robust mechanisms for dealing with conflicts of interest and for advising staff on how to behave when they arise. In an ideal world-I do not know whether this is a duty, but I can write to my hon. Friend about it-councils should have the rules made accessible to members of the public either in a printed form or on their websites.

In summary, complaints about value-for-money decisions should be addressed to the authority's external auditor and concerns about the propriety of decisions and decision-making processes should be addressed to the local authority's monitoring officer.

It is unfortunate that the circumstances of the setting up of this project have caused comment, since the Government strongly support increased access to internet services and are committed to ensuring that virtually everyone in this country, including those living in rural areas, has access to a good level of broadband. It is important not to lose sight of that in the specific concerns raised about the Swindon project. I am glad that my hon. Friend emphasised that the Prime Minister said today that broadband is the electricity of today. Indeed, it is; it will make a huge difference to our country's economy and the lives of the people who live here.

As I have explained, central Government have no ability to intervene in the decisions that have been made by Swindon council or in respect of the manner in which those decisions were taken. These are matters that need pursuing locally and I hope my hon. Friend is able to secure answers to the questions she has posed.

The Swindon project should present an exciting opportunity to boost the local economy and regenerate parts of the borough by giving people, especially those in disadvantaged communities, a chance to access and use technology and share the benefits that it can bring. However, the questions that my hon. Friend has posed about the project and the process that has been followed are very important. It is in the council's interest to provide satisfactory answers to those questions, and to make transparent the way in which decisions have been made. Then, and only then, will residents' concerns be laid to rest. I sincerely hope that Swindon council will provide those answers, and that the project can then proceed to bring the benefits that my hon. Friend and the Government wish it to bring.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.

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