Exchange of emails with Keri Denton following BT Press Release

On March 5, 2014, BT put out a press release announcing the additional £22.75M BDUK rural broadband extension funding for Devon and Somerset and giving the impression that BT would be getting that money as an extension of the existing CDS funded programme. On March 6 an email was sent to people interested in rural broadband, copied to Keri Denton and Andrew Leadbetter. Keri Denton replied to this email on March 7 on behalf of the CDS Board (See note at bottom of page). A response to this email was sent on March 11. So far no reply has been received to the email of March 11. Readers are invited to come to their own conclusions about this exchange of emails.

Email 3: A reply to the CD&S Board (No response so far received) 

For the attention of the Connecting Devon & Somerset Board


Dear Keri,


Thank you for your reply to my email of March 5.


In the absence of fact, there is only fiction. Fiction is what CD&S has forced taxpayers in rural Devon and Somerset to speculate on because of the absence of facts about what will or will not be delivered by the existing CD&S contract signed with BT in January 2013.


You may well consider my email to be emotional, spurious, unhelpful and sensational (to use your words) but this is reality for the people you claim to serve. I went to some lengths when we met in Upottery, Feb 7, to demonstrate that other English County Councils, bound by the same strictures from BT that you have been bound by, are able to publish detailed deployment plans (e.g. Superfast Northamptonshire), but you and BT persist in denying the people of Devon and Somerset information about the 11 phase BT deployment plan for superfast broadband in our two counties funded significantly more generously than is Northamptonshire. You assert that the risk associated with putting detailed deployment data in the public domain is too great since it may create unnecessary concern and cause people to make wrong decisions about their futures.


Your risk aversion may be laudable but consider the risk that not publishing detailed deployment information is creating for families and businesses and which you do not see. The risk, for instance, of jobs in rural areas being lost, such as those at a business in a nearby parish to me, after they announced last week that the business will be relocating to Tiverton, because it cannot cope with the poor BT broadband service it currently receives and the uncertainty created by refusing to give any indication when that may be resolved.


Laurent Boon of BT stated at our public meeting on February 7, that “It is unlikely that Upottery will get a superfast broadband service as a result of the current programme”. He and you still refuse to identify the “final 10%, hard to reach areas”, 14 months into a 48 month project and so businesses will leave rural areas because they must conclude, in the absence of the facts from you, that all white areas on your final coverage map must be treated as if they are in the final 10%, even though we all know some of them won’t!


We all deal with uncertainty every day and whilst your desire to shield the public from the inherent risk that the CD&S/BT deployment plans may change over the next three years, that is simply creating more uncertainty for larger numbers of people than is necessary. We are all adults and we can cope with uncertainty – we all do it every day!


On January 16, 2014, you told the EDDC/SSDC Joint Scrutiny Panel that Councils who sign an NDA will receive detailed project data on implementation plans by postcode for the 11 phases of the CD&S contract. This is the information that Devon & Somerset taxpayers, who are funding your programme, also have a right to see. It is immensely disrespectful of you to tell the people of Devon & Somerset that it is better for them to have no information for fear that, were they to have some information, they would make the wrong decisions.


Last week, in an email to Upottery Parish Council, Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the all party Public Accounts Committee said, "The lack of transparency over BT’s contracts to provide rural broadband is bad for local communities and it is bad for the taxpayer. It is not acceptable that people are denied information about whether or not they are going to receive superfast broadband and it means alternative providers who could fill the gap cannot get a look in. During the course of the Public Accounts Committee’s inquiry into rural broadband I have noted the vital role that parish councils have been playing in fighting to ensure their communities are not left behind. I really hope your efforts in Devon and Somerset pay off and am happy to lend my support to your campaign."


In front of the PAC, January 27, 2014, Sean Williams, BT’s MD told Margaret Hodge MP that BT is not preventing Councils from making public the full deployment details for rural Superfast Broadband Projects. Whilst waving a sheaf of letters from people in rural counties across the UK in front of Mr Williams, complaining that their County Council is not putting this information in the public domain, Margaret Hodge said “somebody is not telling the truth here”. Those of us in rural Devon & Somerset can only come to the same conclusion since Cllr Andrew Leadbetter said at the Feb 7 public meeting in Upottery, that CD&S were not prepared to take the risk of putting themselves in a position where they might be sued by BT by sharing detailed implementation plans with the taxpayers of Devon and Somerset.


Obviously it is pleasing to hear that CD&S intends to take up the £22.75M broadband extension fund allocation on March 25, with the aim of confirming match funding by June 30 as required by BDUK. I know it will not be simple to find the match funds, but there are currently a number of private investors keen to invest in UK infrastructure (e.g. Legal & General Infrastructure Investment) and we all wish you every success in confirming match funding, although I am concerned that you ruled out equity funding when we spoke last week. It is iniquitous that BDUK are currently requiring 1:1 match funding for the extension allocation whilst the initial allocation of £33.72M, which is funding the current BT contract, only had to be matched at 60p in the £1. Whilst I know this was because CD&S acted as a pilot for BDUK, it is wrong that the extension allocation, which is for deploying superfast broadband in “more difficult to reach areas” should require match funding at a higher rate than was the case for superfast broadband deployment in much more densely populated towns and villages. BDUK, Maria Miller MP must accommodate this and I call on all Devon and Somerset MP’s and all Councils to urgently lobby the government to this end.


You have confirmed that BDUK extension funding will not be used to extend the existing CD&S contract with BT, which is good to hear and that instead you will either (a) set up a new procurement contract with BT or another supplier; or (b) start a new open market tender/procurement process to find supplier(s) for the extension programme. Whilst it is expected that BT will be keen to win the new contract, it is important, as Maria Miller MP stated in her letter to County Council Chief Executives in July 2013, that any new contract, irrespective of which supplier is chosen, is not subject to a Non Disclosure Clause with the supplier and that full details of the subsequent deployment work, part funded by public funds, are placed in the public domain. I would be grateful if would confirm this.


I would point out to you that whilst websites for other County Council Superfast Broadband projects have carried updates of how those Council project teams are responding to the BDUK extension funding allocations since BDUK announced them on February 25, the CD&S website is notable for making no reference to the fact that the allocation has been made or what CD&S are doing to secure it and procure match funding and identify suppliers. Were you to share this information with your taxpayers via website updates, you would not be receiving the numerous emails you are receiving requesting clarification. Once again, in the absence of fact, all that your tax payers have is fiction and that is unacceptable.


Sincerely,

Graham Long
Upottery Parish Councillor
Blackdown Hills AONB Management Group Member for Otter and West Parishes.


Email 2: Keri Denton's reply to email 1 on behalf of the CDS Board

SENT ON BEHALF OF THE CONNECTING DEVON AND SOMERSET BOARD

Dear Graham

Thank you for copying us in on your email and giving us the chance to reply.

I would like to take this opportunity to respond to some of the points that have been made in the email.

Connecting Devon and Somerset welcomes the allocation of £22.75 million from the superfast extension programme and is working very closely with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the next steps we need to take to secure this investment. Currently we are in dialogue with BDUK to prepare our Expression of Interest (EOI).

At no time have we indicated to BDUK or anyone else that our intention is simply to 'hand the money over to BT'. The press release issued jointly by Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) and BT does not comment on how this investment will be used or imply that that decision has been made.

Far more pressing for us at the moment is the requirement to provide match funding, which will be extremely challenging given the climate of deep public sector cuts and the work that needs to be done to secure the resilience of our critical infrastructure after the recent adverse weather. We are working with our MPs who are lobbying Ministers and the Secretary of State directly on our behalf on this issue.

There is a very clear process that we need to adhere to secure these additional funds that requires CDS to indicate its preferred route and strategy before submitting the EOI. While the guidance does include the possibility of extending the current contract with BT, CDS has ruled out this option. Following a call with BDUK on Wednesday, they are very clear that this is not our intention.

We have confirmed with BDUK that they have not stated at any time that CDS will be handing the money to BT or taking an easy option. This is wholly inaccurate and misleading. Indeed, BDUK have provided the following statement to strongly refute the claims made in the email:

In our discussions with Connecting Devon and Somerset, the programme has been very clear in its intention to use a blended approach to secure as much value for money as possible. At no time have we suggested that we believe the programme has intended to allocate all the funding to the private sector supplier.

Once we are ready to go to market, CDS will begin a robust and state aid compliant procurement exercise. All local bodies are required to undertake a thorough and compliant approach to procurement as a condition of being awarded funding.

We are happy to provide explanation on the processes we need to adhere to and give out as much accurate information as we are able. However, responding to emails that seek to sensationalise and create the wrong impression of the programme, act as a diversion making additional work for the team.

We are extremely concerned that emotive emails such as this only serve to mislead and confuse at a time when we need to be pulling together to secure as much investment as possible into our area. Whilst being extremely unhelpful, spurious commentary serves as a distraction from the programme’s core aims, which is to secure further funding for what is a major engineering project to ultimately enable us to deliver superfast broadband across our entire area.

Regards

Keri Denton

Programme Director for Connecting Devon and Somerset

Frances Williams

Personal Assistant to Keri Denton, Head Of Economy & Enterprise

Devon County Council

Room AB2, Lucombe House, County Hall

Topsham Road, Exeter, EX2 4QD


Email 1: Sent following BT Press Release and copied to Andrew Leadbetter and Keri Denton


Taking the Opportunity of a visit yesterday to Newton Abbot by Maria Miller MP, Sec of State at DCMS, BT have put out an amazing press release, quoting Cllr Leadbetter(DCC), Cllr David Hall (SCC) and Paul Coles (BT Regional Manager) and giving the impression that once matched, the £22.75M broadband extension funding allocated on Feb 25 for CD&S, is heading in BT's direction! See:

BDUK have already indicated that they believe CD&S's preferred option is to hand the money over to BT, and it is the simplest thing for them to do, requiring the least effort on their part, but giving taxpayers in Devon & Somerset the least certainty of what they will get for this investment. This is because it is most likely that what BT then deliver for the money will be hidden behind the existing Non Disclosure Agreement and we will continue not to know when, if ever, those of us who think we are in "final 10% areas" (but which CD&S/BT will not confirm) will get a decent broadband service because the NDA prevents the Councils from telling us the details of BT's deployment programme.

Have these people not heard the damning criticism of the existing BT contracts (like CD&S's) by the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office; - and despite the fact that Sean Williams, BT's MD, told Margaret Hodge MP on January 27th that Councils can disclose full deployment details from their BT contract, CD&S and Devon and Somerset County Councils are still telling us they are not allowed by BT to divulge that information, on pain of being sued by BT! Maria Miller MP, last year, held up Northamptonshire as a best case example of a County that is putting full deployment details into the public domain even though they have signed BT's NDA. It is however now rumored that the BT NDA even prevents councils from sharing deployment data with each other! BT did a really good job of muzzling their customers, and Devon and Somerset County Councils have thus far, gone along with them all the way.

Margaret Hodge's Public Accounts Committee are so angry about the way that more and more money is being handed over to BT without proper oversight that the PAC has called for the additional £22.75M to be withheld until BT explain fully, what they have done with the money they have already received! See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-26366893
And while all this goes on, those of us who are surviving in rural Devon & Somerset and think we may be in a "final 10%" area, which DCC, SCC, CD&S will not confirm, slide further and further behind nearby towns and large villages who gain a £20 boost to their economies for every £1 of subsidised investment by BDUK and CD&S, paid for, in part, by rural taxes.
In the words of Neil Parish MP, "It is time for the rural yeomen of England to rise up!"

Regards,
Graham


The Connecting Devon and Somerset Project Board:

Andrew Leadbetter, DCC

David Hall, SCC

Phil Norrey, CEO DCC

Paul Flaherty, BDUK

Alan Srbljanin BDUK (south west)

David Turner N Somerset DC

John Wilkinson Bath & N Somerset DC

Nick Aimes MEP

Paula Hewitt South Somerset DC

Charles Huzzel

Keri Denton


The BDUK rural extension funding announced February 25, 2014 allocated the largest share to Devon & Somerset. Top 10 recipients are:

Devon and Somerset £22.7m

Shropshire £12.8m

Hereford and Gloucestershire £10.98m

South Yorkshire £10.4m

Essex £10.7m

Hampshire £8.7m

Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire - £6.6m

Kent and Medway £5.6m

East Riding, Yorkshire £5m

Black Country £4.9m

 


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