Project Gigabit

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 21st September 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 11:00 am, 21st September 2021

That is absolutely right. Traditionally, it is hard to earn a living in remote areas, but with high quality broadband we can live in a glorious place. I often say that if someone could live and raise their kids in South Lakeland and make a living, they would. We have an opportunity to do so. That applies to many other people and Members who have similarly glorious constituencies.

The Government’s decision to end the voucher scheme this week will be a body blow to the communities I have listed and to the others that I have chosen not to list for now. It is all the more cruel because of the real hope that our communities were offered that, through the B4RN model and the voucher scheme, they could and should have been connected. When B4RN comes to a community, it does not just build a world-class fibre optic network; it builds a community. It becomes a focus of energy, endeavour and a collective triumph against the odds. Communities that have been through the B4RN process are glued together with new friendships, new common interests and a new sense of community.

The Minister should know that the damage her decision will do to our communities goes far beyond the technology and to the very heart of those communities and community life. Those of us who have been through the experience and are proud to vouch for B4RN and for the hundreds of volunteers who have delivered the connections are at a loss as to how the Government can ignore that lived experience.

I have two simple solutions to solve the crisis, and then I will draw my remarks to a close. First, will the Minster commit to ensuring that all properties in areas where B4RN is already demonstrably engaged are given deferred scope procurement status? That will ensure that those areas are not part of the initial procurement scope of the regional supplier and that a B4RN build supported through voucher funding will still be available.

Secondly, will the Minister allow any pre-registered packages associated with deferred scope areas to remain open through the rest of the procurement process to ensure that the B4RN build programme is not disrupted? How can the Government claim to be levelling up when they are removing the chance for people living in the most rural areas of Cumbria, Lancashire, Northumberland and elsewhere to access hyperfast fibre-optic broadband in their homes?

This is a model that the rest of the country could learn from and emulate. Instead, it appears that Ministers—at least so far—have not been interested in learning from success and instead want to impose failure. That is why I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak today and to plead with the new Minister to listen to B4RN, to local MPs and, more importantly, to our communities, and not to be the Minister responsible for promising Project Gigabit but delivering “Project Pull the Plug”.