THE leader of Swindon’s Labour group has accused the Government of doing a deal to send money to Northern Ireland while neglecting other parts of the UK. Since falling short of a majority at the General Election, the Conservatives have been in talks with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party in a bid to agree a ‘confidence and supply’ deal. It was finally agreed on Monday and will see the DUP’s 10 MPs vote with the Government on key issues including the Queen’s Speech and Brexit.
As part of the agreement, Northern Ireland will get an additional ?1bn over two years to be spent on infrastructure, ultra-fast broadband and tackling deprivation as well as health and education. But the Labour leader in Swindon has joined others in the opposition parties in questioning the fairness of the deal for other parts of the country. Jim Grant pointed to a failure to secure Government funding for the Thamesdown Drive extension and said less money is going into schools, bus services and libraries while children’s centres have already been closed.
He said: “How is it fair that Northern Ireland is getting ?1bn just so that this weak Tory Government can remain for two years yet Swindon and other places in the UK get nothing?
“This ?1bn could have funded the Thamesdown Drive Extension Road, prevented cuts to Swindon’s schools and kept running our bus services that have so badly been cutback.
“If you think about the Thamesdown Drive Extension Road, we were not given Government investment for this because there wasn’t the money. Now Northern Ireland will be getting this money.
“It is quite obvious that this ?1bn isn’t in the national interest, but is the price for the Tory Party to stay in power for two years. It’s self-serving for the Conservative Party and the rest of the UK, including Swindon, is being short changed.
“Of course the Government could have decided that all of the UK needs extra investment rather than just Northern Ireland, and if they had done this they would have got Labour’s support.
“I would urge Swindon’s two MPs to do the right thing for Swindon and call for all of the UK to get extra government investment, rather than just Northern Ireland for politically expedient reasons.”
But the town’s MPs have rejected his characterisation of the deal and have suggested that he is playing politics with the future stability of the country. North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson1 said Coun Grant had got into an “embarrassing muddle” over figures.
“Swindon has already secured ?169m extra infrastructure funding under the Conservative Government,” he added. “All opposed by Labour each and every year in Parliament.
“Rather than being programmed by his party he should focus his anger at those irresponsible Labour MPs who have voted against fairer funding for our schools and hospitals and the New Home Bonus scheme, all delivering vital funding for our local services.
“Whilst Labour organise protest marches and attend festivals we are getting on with running the country.
“Today’s agreement will ensure that we can govern in the national interest, with support on the Queen’s Speech, the Budget and on legislation for Brexit and our national security – strengthening and enhancing the Union, keeping our country safe, delivering prosperity for all, and securing a departure from the European Union which benefits all parts of the United Kingdom.”
Robert Buckland, the MP for South Swindon and the Government’s Solicitor General, also hit back at the criticism. He said: “Labour are guilty of double standards here.
I don’t remember Jim Grant objecting to Gordon Brown’s attempts to gain support from the DUP in 2010.
“Labour lost this election. We need as stable a Government as possible which is why this arrangement is necessary. The last thing the country needs now is a Corbyn-led extreme left Labour government.
“We are not making some sort of choice between spending in Northern Ireland and spending here.
Our national infrastructure fund tops ?23bn so this is just party politicking of the worst kind.
“I will continue to campaign for more investment in Swindon’s infrastructure on top of the ?169m already secured since 2010.”
?3 million of public money to boost ultrafast coverage in Wiltshire
100 Mbps and faster). In the north of the county Gigaclear has a contract to deliver 5,800 premises using their Gigabit FTTH network and the southern part has gone to BT which is also contracted to deliver an ultrafast service. Thousands upon thousands of premises are seeing the benefits of an improved broadband service thanks to our programme, and we’re delighted even more will do so soon. We’re pleased to be working with both Gigaclear and BT to provide this next phase of work which will have a positive impact for householders and businesses alike. We are committed to providing an improved broadband service to as much as of the county as possible and will continue to look at all opportunities to help us achieve this.
John Thomson – Wiltshire Council cabinet member for broadband
The public funding of ?3 million comprises ?1 million raised by the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership and ?2 million from Broadband Deliver UK and is addition to the various phase I roll-outs and superfast extension projects previously announced. Each contract winner will have been expected to add their own funding towards the roll-out, i.e. the principle of gap funding continues.
thinkbroadband calculation of across Wiltshire Constituencies
figures 15th June 2017 Area % fibre based % superfast
24 Mbps or faster % superfast
30 Mbps or faster % Ultrafast
100 Mbps or faster % Virgin Media Cable % Openreach FTTP % Under 2 Mbps USC % Under proposed 10 Mbps USO Wiltshire County Council
Excluding North and South Swindon2 97.2% 89.7% 88.3% 35.8% 35.3% 0.27% 1.5% 4.6% Chippenham Constituency 96.7% 94% 92.9% 23.4% 22.3% 0% 0.1% 1.1% Devizes Constituency 97.2% 87.3% 85.3% 20.3% 20.3% 0% 2.1% 6.1% North Swindon Constituency 90.3% 89.9% 89.7% 72% 70.2% 2.43% 0.1% 2.3% North Wiltshire Constituency 95.8% 81.9% 79.8% 13.7% 13.4% 0% 2.9% 8.1% Salisbury Constituency 98% 92.8% 92% 58.4% 58.4% 0.73% 1% 2.7% South Swindon Constituency 90.6% 90.1% 90.1% 84.7% 82.5% 0.77% 0.3% 2.4% South West Wiltshire Constituency 97% 90.4% 89.3% 58.7% 58.7% 0% 1.4% 5.1%
The coverage table above does include the North and South Swindon constituencies, just in case at the very edges some areas may fall within the remit of these contracts, the coverage figures for Wiltshire only includes those premises identified as part of the council rather than the ceremonial county. Swindon as its own unitary authority is funding its own roll-outs outside the BDUK framework having initially opted out of the BDUK process in its first phase. The 5,800 premises in the Gigaclear area represent around an additional 2.5 to 3% of coverage for Wiltshire and with additional premises from the BT contract if the existing projects deliver superfast as expected it seems likely that the county will push past 95% superfast coverage and at the same time boost ultrafast availability.
The SEP contract with BT is still delivering VDSL2 with a recent addition being cabinet 7 near the A4/Box Hill on the Box exchange and with the high levels of coverage when you ignore range performance issues we expect to see plenty more infill solutions and its possible some of the areas covered via these new contracts will also provide infill.
Performing infill with a later contract does not mean money has been spent twice as the BDUK framework means public money should only be used to pay for premises that were uplifted to superfast and beyond.
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LABOUR is calling for the rolling out of the council-backed superfast broadband across North Swindon to be suspended. It comes after the recent news of BT’s successful introduction of Openreach broadband following a long campaign by residents. In 2014, Swindon Borough Council1 agreed to take part in the government’s Superfast Broadband Extension Programme and agreed a deal with UK Broadband Network Ltd (UKBN) to deliver the project.
However, at the time UKBN was awarded the contract BT hadn’t brought their fibre broadband infrastructure to North Swindon. Labour claims BT were “controversially overlooked” during the tender process. Now North Swindon residents are satisfied with BT’s fibre broadband service, the Labour Group leader, Coun Jim Grant, has called for no further taxpayer money to be spent delivering UKBN’s broadband infrastructure.
He said: “North Swindon residents have always said they wanted fibre optic broadband and now they are getting it I think it would be wrong to invest taxpayers’ money to fund direct competition to BT. Especially competition that residents don’t want.
“Frankly, local residents and the Labour Group have said from the very beginning that the Conservative cabinet were embarking on a big mistake in rolling out the UKBN’s infrastructure.
“Thankfully huge sums haven’t been wasted yet, but now is the time to draw an end to this scheme.”
But the council has hit back. Conservative councillor Toby Elliott, the cabinet member for strategic planning and sustainability, said: “Labour are incredibly late to the table on broadband. While they issue pointless press releases we’ve been getting on with doing what the public want.
“Justin Tomlinson2 and I have been lobbying for fibre broadband for North Swindon for over five years, starting with my petition. This year we have the great news that both BT and Virgin are installing fibre across the local community.
“We have been in constant discussions with UKBN and it remains an option to remove North Swindon from contract.
This is due to the market intervening thanks to our work. Labour have done nothing for North Swindon.”
Last month, BT put the finishing touches to upgrading the Haydon Wick3 and Blunsdon4 exchanges, along with a number of street cabinets, in order to enable them to deliver fibre broadband to more homes in North Swindon. Some residents have previously had broadband speeds as low as 2mb, which makes it impossible to work from home or live stream videos.