Superfast Broadband Delivery: Somerset

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 13th November 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Conservative, Wells 11:00 am, 13th November 2018

My hon. Friend is ensuring that the Minister gets the message loud and clear, because that is one of the key questions for today’s debate. The remedial plan presented by Gigaclear already runs beyond the date that the Government have said that all available money for the delivery of phase 2 will be spent. Clearly, if Gigaclear’s remedial plan is accepted, the Government will need to be willing to extend the period over which the money is spent from 2020 to 2022. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some good news on that.

Given that only 40% to 60% of properties that were due to be connected by 2020 will now be connected by that time, we might also look at whether we should offer a voucher scheme to people who now find themselves in the 50% to 60% that will not be connected, so that they can take some sort of interim measure themselves. We did exactly that for those who were going to be in phase 2 or in the final 5% when the phase 1 delivery programme was rolled out; we offered voucher schemes of £500, so that people could take interim measures within their homes.

The second issue is the ongoing case for state aid, which we have spoken about a number of times. When the delay in the Gigaclear delivery was first announced, I was straight on local TV and radio, and speaking to my local newspapers, because I was very, very cross. My expectation was that my mailbag was about to explode and that I was going to be contacted by hundreds, if not thousands, of very angry people who were concerned that the broadband they had been waiting for for years and they thought was just weeks away was actually going to be years away again.

The reality is that I have had hardly anything, and that makes me wonder why. If I go back to my former employment, there is a very important part of the military planning process. When assessing the orders to be given in order to achieve a mission, we keep asking ourselves whether the situation has changed, in order to make sure that we are not problem-solving against a situation that no longer exists. I have come to realise in the last few weeks that the reason why so many of my constituents have not been in touch with me about the Gigaclear delay is that they have sorted themselves out.

They have gone to Openreach and put in place a community fibre partnership, or they have gone to companies such as TrueSpeed or Voneus that have cell-to-build business models. Those companies go out into communities and engage, they get 30% sign-up and then draw down the money from Aviva, which underwrites the delivery of the infrastructure, and they build the fibre into those communities. When the Gigaclear contract was delayed, there was complete silence from all those communities that were flashing red on the whiteboard in my office as those which most urgently needed broadband. The reason is that the market is already providing, and has already provided, for a number of them.