Project Gigabit

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:19 am on 21st September 2021.

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Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), Minister of State 11:19 am, 21st September 2021

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s concern for those communities. We all appreciate the importance of broadband in those places. I think the best thing to do from this juncture is that the meeting between officials and Mr Lee goes ahead, and I ask for an update from that meeting and we talk about the best approach going forward.

My team in Building Digital UK has undertaken extensive work, along with the local authority teams in Cumbria and other areas, to get ready for the first procurements. A detailed consultation has been undertaken with the commercial market to identify the least commercial areas in which to subsidise build. That will ensure that taxpayers’ money is fully focused on levelling up the communities that would otherwise miss out. We know that some suppliers will be able to provide coverage more quickly with vouchers to communities where they are already active with projects. We will therefore accommodate that as far as we can in our approach.

However, not all planned voucher projects get off the ground and result in the intended coverage. It is important to ensure that the procurement process is ready to pick up those areas rather than leave anyone behind. We need to ensure that the existing voucher schemes really are credible. For that reason, we are structuring the procurement so that we do not slow down current voucher projects, while providing a back-up option through procurement so that residents and businesses do not miss out. It is about ensuring that there is a balance between supporting early coverage in areas where there are firm plans using vouchers, while ensuring that communities do not get left out and that we do not have to continually change the premises included in procurement. We need to ensure that those procurements are stable.