Broadband Rollout: Devon and Somerset

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:11 pm on 2nd December 2020.

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Photo of Matt Warman Matt Warman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 5:11 pm, 2nd December 2020

I thank my hon. Friend for that. I want to try to look to the future. There are some bits of good news. I cannot remember his precise phrase—I am not sure if he literally asked me to grab Connecting Devon and Somerset by the throat—but we have certainly worked closely with it. He mentioned that we have made an appointment to the board. That is a signal of how closely and intensively we have worked with CDS to get these forthcoming procurements to a much better place.

I will talk about Devon and Somerset specifically, but it is also important to bear in mind that nationally, we are doing things to ensure that every barrier to a nationwide roll-out is removed; we are legislating for improved connectivity in blocks of flats and new builds; we are making it easier to dig up the roads and easier to repair the roads in a way that makes all of the nationwide roll-out go that bit faster. In Devon and Somerset, CDS is now in the final phase of that £38 million procurement that will deliver those final connections. Working with us in DCMS, what it has done—as is already public knowledge—is divide the remaining 50,000 premises into six lots to cover all parts of the region not currently addressed by the live Airband contract. The reason for taking that approach is to maximise competition, speed, and speed of roll-out wherever we possibly can.

We have teams in Building Digital UK that have covered commercial interest, state aid, value for money and delivery, all working intensively with CDS throughout the procurement process and supporting it at every stage. We could not have worked more closely, and that is in part because of the commitments that I made to Members when I came to the area to talk about CDS and we first made the decision that Gigaclear was not going to be in a position to revise its contract. We worked very closely with Gigaclear to try and get it to a point where we did not have to restart the process but, ultimately, I believe that restarting the process was the best way to secure the speed of connections that we need.

It is this close management that has ensured that the procurement is on the very shortest path to delivery that we could possibly have envisaged. To give my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton an idea, one procurement might routinely take nine months. Those six lots—those six procurements—will have been completed in around 10 months. He rightly highlighted the fact that we had aimed to get them done by the end of November. I think he would accept that quite a lot has happened this year that we were not expecting, but it is my expectation that they will be done by Christmas.