The most intriguing new development to emerge from the Public Accounts Committee grilling of BT this afternoon was an apparent statement from BT that it is not the obstacle to disclosing local roll-out plans in receipt of BDUK funding and that it would not object to Local Authorities disclosing these or to sharing contract details with each other, regardless of supposed claims of commercial confidentiality and/or non-disclosure agreements. However, when it came to the later session with DCMS officials it was thought that the commitment had been confined to the roll-out maps. Hence the comments of one of the PAC members that the BT witness would have made a good Jesuit. Even so, towards the end of the second round the DCMS Permanent Secretary confirmed that this was indeed a significant development.
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It will be interesting to see the precise words in the transcript and whether we will see a short order disclosure of plans, perhaps brokered by DCMS and/or BDUK as part of the follow up to meeting on monday on which I blogged earlier this morning. The Permanent Secretary could not commit, he has yet to consult his minister, but I would be surprised if we did not see rapid movement, especially now that the likelihood of a ministerial reshuffle has receded.
It will also be interesting to see whether contracts not yet awarded under the BDUK framework are opened up to short order retender, especially where there is good evidence that alternative roll-out can be expedited rather than delayed. It may, however, be more likely that BT will review its position and begin to open up partnership deals, including as variations on existing contracts, to enable it to deliver more for less, including more profit for its shareholders.
Round One and Two were very different. Round One saw the committee drawing out questions to put to DCMS and Ofcom in Round Two. For most of Round Two the DCMS officials were doing a stonewall defence of the kind I remember from when my father took me to watch the last day of a match between Kent and Essex at Gravesend. He told me that it would be exciting. I watched Trevor Bailey, with whom my father had been at school, turn an “obvious” Kent victory into a draw, sneaking runs at the end of each over to protect the Essex trail-enders. I was nine. Whenever I got fractious my father, who later wanted me to follow him into the civil service, would patiently explain what was happening and why. I greatly regret not having been able to watch this session with my father beside me, not just scoring the batting and bowling but also discussing the strategies behind the tactics.
Ofcom got off very lightly – or did it? The Parliamentary TV feed failed just as the chairman delivered what looked like a wellcrafted googly.