The Island’s MP, Andrew Turner, has said that concerns raised about competition issues by local broadband service suppliers appear to be entirely vindicated following a report published last week by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The PAC’s remit is to ensure that public expenditure is properly appropriated and accounted for. It does not examine the merits of policy, but looks at whether public expenditure represents good value-for-money.
The report made serious criticisms of the handling by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport of the Rural Broadband Programme. It was found that BT had effectively been placed in a monopoly position having won all of the 26 contracts awarded to date, and they were the only possible winner in the remaining 18 contracts. Criticism was made of the fact that BT will end up owning the assets created from the expenditure of £1.2b of public money. The report also found concerns in other aspects of the programme delivery, including the late rollout in 2017 – two years later than planned. The Government and BT are disputing the findings.
Mr Turner commented:
“I was contacted by local broadband operators complaining about these issues as they were adversely affecting their businesses. On the face of it there seemed to be real competition issues and I raised them with Maria Miller MP, the Secretary of State. I was assured all was well.
“The PAC has now raised serious concerns about how this entire programme has been handled; it seems that the complaints raised by local companies are vindicated. It is important to remember that Select Committees are made up of MPs of all parties. We take expert evidence and consider things very carefully before issuing reports on a cross-party basis. I will be looking at this carefully to see if anything can be done to open up the contract on the Island which has not yet been awarded – but I suspect there is not. No government of any colour gets everything right – but it is a great pity that this important programme has not been subject to proper and rigorous competition.”
UPDATE MONDAY – Responding to the report, a spokesperson for BT has today told Island Echo:
“We are disturbed by the report, which we believe is simply wrong and fails to take on board a point-by-point correction we sent to the committee several weeks ago.
“We have been transparent from the start and willing to invest when others have not.
“It is therefore mystifying that we are being criticised for accepting onerous terms in exchange for public subsidy – terms which drove others away.
“The taxpayer is undoubtedly getting value for money.
“BTfaces a payback period of around 15 years on its rural broadband investments inspite of the subsidies available.
“The Department for Culture has imposed a rigorous auditing process that ensures every penny is accounted for.
“Rolling out fibre is an expensive and complex business but we remain committed to the programme.
“The network we build will be open to all our rivals, who will be able to sell services to consumers, paying us the same prices we charge our own Retail division.”