ED Balls and Open Government give the opportunity for a Broadband Breakthrough

The announcement by the Shadow Chancellor that Labour would put the receipts from the 4G auction towards subsided new build housing gives Maria Miller a great opportunity to cut a year or more off the timescale for rolling out both fixed and mobile broadband. It is most unclear how much the 4G auction will raise. Ed Balls was expecting £3 – 4bn but the actual is likely to be considerably less and the first £600 million appears to have already been committed. Meanwhile Ian Grant has commented on the bloodbath within DCMS and the departure (voluntary or otherwise) of those seeking to get better value for money before the new Secretary of State could start asking them questions.

Yesterday I was told, how correctly I do not know, that DCMS is one of the departments that are most determined in their resistance to the Cabinet Office drive for open government, particularly with regard to securing value for money in their procurement policies. Now it would appear that those who take Cabinet Office policy seriously are fired for leaking.

I would love to see the Secretary of State not only pull off her negotiations today and get the 4G auction over before the New Year in return for an end to litigation, but also secure Treasury agreement to announce (at the party conference) that the uncommited proceeds will be spent on pulling through ubiquitous broadband to also help improve public services and create jobs in rural areas and inner cities. The latter anncouncment would imply that the current, backwards looking  single supplier framework will be swept away and local authorities will be supported in pooling funds (from what-ever source), using what-ever procurement frameworks (from those of Local Government, JANET or the NENs to PSN) to pull through investment in converged, open access networks capable of meeting the needs of the 21st century.   

But in order to make a reality of such an announcement and achieve timely results it is probably also necessary for the Minister to order DCMS to follow both the spirit and the letter of open government. That will not come at all easy for a Department with so many skeletons in its closets (from negotiations with the Arts Council, BBC and Sky to those over National Lottery and the Olympics) and the habits of mind which result from dealing with media owners, content owners and creative artists . Now that they are nearing Valhalla perhaps the time has come for a new Abbess Hild to persuade the Norsemen to convert to christianity and the Christians to pool their differences.       

I would still expect BT to manage win most of the converged infrastructure and network servcies business on offer, but on fair terms, with no need for state aid and in ways which give a better long-term return to its shareholders than watching its customer’s businesses move overseas as the UK falls behind the rest of the world as a location of choice for on-line business.

P.S. I also happen to believe that a VAT  holiday with regard to converting and refurbishing currently empty or semi-derelict properties would do far more to alleviate housing shortages than using the uncertain receipts from the 4G Auction.

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