The announcement today of the £360 million of funding towards rural broadband is welcome news. Whether that funding really will acheive the supposed objectives depends, however, on the small print. The covering letter from the Secretary of State to Local Authority Chief Executives says that “BDUK’s funding would need to be matched by local funding to make the necessary investment viable to the private sector. This could come from local authorities’ own resources, European funding or other sources. BDUK funding will only be available from projects where a local authority commences a procurement that is approved by BDUK”.
I have been critical of the procurement framework for which BDUK did an OJEU and PQQ because it failed to live up to the objectives stated in the business model they had previously issued. I note that there was even a Freedom of Information Request to find out the reasons for the difference. There are signs that things have been moving on albeit how far and how fast is unclear.
Now, that the OJEU for the PSN framework has been published, together with a range of guidance material on the new Government Procurement Solutions website , the time has come to issue a clear statement as to how the apparent contradictions are to be reconciled. The alternative is to accept the logic of the “big society” and respond to local proposals provided they meet basic criteria for state aid, fair competition and international standards for quality of service and inter-operablity.
This is particularly important given that the EU is supposedly about to make available 7 billion euros, subject to compliance with Commission guidance. The Dutch material and the list of judgements to date on which I blogged a couple of months ago might well make a good start point for looking at what that guidance is likely to be.
If not, some Councils may have to choose between BDUK funding and that from Europe. Others may have to forgo that on offer from local communities, including of uncharged wayleaves and contributions to infrastructure costs from land-owners, other utilities property developers and local businesses willing to pay up front for globally competitve access.
P.S. I should add that I still look forward to being told that I am wrong and that the contradictions have now been addressed.