The BDUK project could be derailed by the NAO

Late last week, the NAO revealed it was looking into the government’s BDUK project to roll-out broadband across the country and whether the £530m being invested was value for money.

Today, Whitehall insiders told the Financial Times that the BDUK process was “a train crash waiting to happen” and the report from the NAO – due out next month – would attack the lack of competition and transparency.

I just keep thinking, what has taken everyone so long???

The ‘process’ – and I used those inverted commas deliberately – was established back when Jeremy Hunt was the Culture Secretary in 2011; the days when we used to look forward to hearing him on Radio 4 in case another spoonerism popped out.

In my opinion, it was clear then that the incumbent BT was going to be favoured by the government who had an on-going relationship with the provide – look at how much it has left BT to its own devices during the Huawei affair. Also, as many of its rival bidders said, BT was the only company with the scale to do what the BDUK plans proposed, as it was designed for big contracts, not local providers.

It was of no surprise to me that only BT and one other – Fujitsu – got accredited and I experienced even  contracts, making it a waste of their time getting involved.

The only place I tend to disagree is the value for money aspect. I still find the £530m figure for rolling out infrastructure across the UK that is so important to both our cultural and economic progression a pitiful amount and feel when we can throw millions at a new railway line that won’t even be operational for a decade, we could easily put more into the pot.

However, if alongside the investment from BT and the funds from local councils, we can actually achieve superfast access for 90% of the country and a minimum of 2Mbps for all by 2015, I will be pretty impressed.

But that is the final bullet in the gun that is going to damn the government. The NAO clearly doesn’t think this target will be met. Rumour has it even David Cameron is grilling the current culture secretary Maria Miller about the likelihood of hitting the deadline in cabinet today, following a recent audit that showed the scheme was under pressure.

There is no doubt in my mind that more money and more operators involved would have made for a better process. With more competition, more openness about the contenders and more bucks to spend, everyone could have benefited.

Now, we are stuck at the half way mark of the project, unsure if we are to complete in time and, with the state of the current administration, whether those in charge will be there to see it.

Needless to say, the NAO report will be a tough read for all those involved and may bring up some home truths the DCMS have been sticking their head in the sand to hide from.

Until July then…

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