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Broadband Infrastructure

Volume 577: debated on Thursday 13 March 2014

2. What recent estimate she has made of the number of businesses that have secured contracts from (a) Broadband Delivery UK and (b) local authorities for broadband infrastructure development in England and Wales. (903015)

Broadband Delivery UK has entered into a framework contract with BT and Fujitsu. There are 40 local authority projects in England with funding from BDUK, and the Welsh Government have one project in Wales. All the contracts have been delivered via BT. I am pleased to say that, under the super-connected cities programme, 70 suppliers have been registered, 300 vouchers have been awarded, and 1,000 more are in the pipeline.

In a recent report, the Public Accounts Committee said that local authorities were contributing £236 million more than the Department had predicted in its 2011 business case, and that the sole monopoly provider, BT, had contributed £207 million less. As the Minister responsible throughout the programme, does the Under-Secretary of State believe that that is an effective use of public money?

I do. Ofcom confirmed yesterday that we now have the best broadband in the European “big five”, and the fastest roll-out of 4G in the world. We continue to press ahead with 5G, we have published our spectrum strategy, and we have one of the most formidable digital infrastructure programmes in the world.

I commend my hon. Friend on the work that he is doing, but he no doubt shares my disappointment that Thirsk, Malton and Filey will have only 78% high-speed cover by 2015-16. Will the Government reverse their priorities to ensure that, with the help of NYnet’s excellent work, broadband will penetrate the hardest-to-reach areas in rural constituencies?

North Yorkshire has one of the most advanced broadband programmes so far, with more than 75,000 premises already passed. The councils in north Yorkshire are to be commended for that. As my hon. Friend knows, we have awarded an additional £250 million in order to push out our programme for rural broadband to help rural premises and businesses.

Recently the Prime Minister was mocked by Chancellor Merkel for the slow progress in rolling out broadband across the UK and the number of not spot areas, many of which reside in my constituency. Although I accept that this is largely a devolved issue, what extra help can the Minister give the Welsh Government to ensure that when the Prime Minister next meets the German Chancellor he is not embarrassed?

More than 100,000 premises in Wales have already been passed and the target is to reach almost 700,000 by early 2016. If the Prime Minister sees Chancellor Merkel again and wishes to discuss broadband, he can present her with the Ofcom scorecard, which shows that Britain’s broadband is better than Germany’s. I would not say that this was a case of schadenfreude—except that schadenfreude is the only German word I know.

Will smaller companies with innovative technologies get a slice of the action in reaching the last 10% of hardest-to- reach rural areas? To that end, although the money offered by the Department for Communities and Local Government is welcome, is there not a danger, if it must be match funded by local authorities at a time of funding crisis, that the process will be much slower than it would otherwise be?

I hate to get territorial but the money has actually been offered by DCMS not DCLG. It is important that the money is match funded because having local authorities involved makes the programme even more effective than it already is, but as my hon. Friend knows we have a £10 million innovation fund for the last 5%, which we are hoping many young and nimble companies will apply for.