Frustration with the progress of Shropshire Council’s BDUK scheme – Connecting Shropshire – has now boiled over after local campaign group, the Shropshire and Marches Campaign for Better Rural Broadband, ended its association with the council.
Mounting annoyance over Shropshire Council’s apparent inability to find a way to unlock an £11.38m government grant by finding an equal amount of funding itself was the catalyst for the group’s withdrawal, reported the Shropshire Star.
Group spokesman Patrick Cosgrove said the campaign had concluded there was “little useful purpose” in maintaining its membership of Shropshire’s Rural Broadband Group.
Despite high hopes at the beginning, he explained, “attendance at the group has been patchy, agendas preset, and conditions of confidentiality too inhibiting for our campaign to express its views freely.”
Though he remained sympathetic to the council, suggesting that central government had bullied and gagged it, Cosgrove said that its unwillingness to borrow to match the BDUK funding pot was disheartening.
He added: “Our decision has been aided by last week’s discovery that one green cabinet in Clun will be upgraded to superfast while the other will not. It’s difficult to imagine any elected member or council officer freely choosing to deal with a discrete area of population this way, which rather proves the point that BT is in the driving seat at the expense of rural households and businesses for whom the programme of broadband rollout was intended.”
There is also a real concern that BDUK will increasingly be exploited by the main political parties as campaigning for next May’s General Election hits its stride.
With the prospect of over £22m worth of broadband funding slipping ever further out of reach, Shropshire Council told the Star that it was still committed to finding the money. Somehow.
But according to Cosgrove, quite how that aim will be achieved remains something of a mystery. He told Computer Weekly that the group would continue its campaign.
In a recent constituency newsletter, Ludlow MP Philip Dunne said he would continue to work with the council to find ways to match the government funding.