Is BDUK a triumph or a disaster - and for whom?

Last week I was told that BDUK was a triumph because it had enabled the leveraging of a £billion of additional funding (from BT, EU and Local Authorities) on top of the DCMS funding. Three days later I heard that Fujitsu had withdrawn from the Cumbria bid and BT had been asked to retender. The Financial Times , quotes Fujitsu as citing “lack of a clear path towards a mass market”. Computer Weekly quotes the Councillor overseeing the tender process as saying “Fujitsu’s reasons …[were] national rather than related to Cumbria”. Meanwhile one of the local MPs is complaining at the lack of progress over the 18 months since the Minister announced the funding for Cumbria. One story is that the EU objections to the BDUK framework are a minor irritant and “the programme is still on track for its 2015 targets”. Another is that the objections are fundamental: a refusal to allow support for an incumbent telco to provide a service that does not meet agreed EU performance targets. There are also stories of threats of legal action under state aid rules by those not allowed to bid. 

I wonder if the “triumph” story might read: “Fujitsu withdrew because the tender, under the  BDUK framework, lacked a clear path because it did not meet EU performance targets and fingers crossed, BDUK will get this right by 2015.”

Meanwhile, according to the Guardian, BDUK spent over a £million last year on KPMG procurement consultants and over £700,000 on legal advice from Pinsent Masons. It has spent nearly another £900,000 so far this year and has a lifetime adminstrative budget of over £16 million. For comparison, Westminster and Chelsea spent £20,000 on procurement and legal advice for an ubiquitous broadband (alias wifi) deal for which negotations began approximately this time last year, the tender was awarded before Christmas and roll-out is under way. The consultancy and legal fees for the Birmingham broadband procurement which was recently approved by the EU are not in the public domain but I am told they had change out of £50,000.

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BDUK appears to be between a rock and a hard place.

Ifit changes the framework rules, to meet EU targets and include PSN compliance (to carry next generation public services),then Fujitsu (and all the others who have withdrawn from the market) will cry foul.  Meanwhile thepostbags of the hundred or so MPs who supported Rory Stewart’s debate earlierthis year will fill up as rural services (including those for parts of thecommuter belt round London) suffer melt-down during the Olympics.

Has the time come, perhaps when DCMS is dismantled as part of thepost-Olympic Cabinet reshuffle, to allow local initiative to compensate for thefailure of central planning and “co-ordination”? 

P.S. I have also been told that DMCS and DECC officials have beenforbidden to communicate with each other regarding possible infrastructuresharing (e.g. for smart metering ) because both are engaged in procurement exercises with the same suppliers for overlapping services.

Given the lack of policyco-ordination and thought leadership at the centre, it appears to be incumbenton those who wish to see economic recovery pulled through by 1930s style infrastructureinvestment  (c.f, the building  of the National Grid) to provide thisthemselves: whether they do so on a party political basis or on all all-party basis via the Information SocietyAlliance (EURIM) or both in parallel.