Norfolk broadband project still on schedule as funding fears allayed …

Programme director Karen O'Kane (far left) helping people register for the

Programme director Karen O’Kane (far left) helping people register for the “Say Yes to Better Broadband” campaign at the Market Gates shopping centre, Great Yarmouth in 2012. Picture: James Bass

People living in Norfolk s internet not-spots have been reassured that the county s broadband project will be delivered as promised despite national concerns over the government s investment programmes.

Norfolk County Council is working with BT on a scheme to connect isolated communities which would not otherwise have benefited from the commercial roll-out of high-speed fibre-optic services.

The contract was signed following an EDP-backed campaign to prove the public demand for the upgrade, which brought more than 15,000 registrations of interest.

The project team initially secured 15m of government funding from the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) through its Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) sub-divison.

But this weekend, fears were raised when a Whitehall audit from the Major Projects Authority highlighted the national Broadband Delivery Programme among 32 of the coalition s spending projects which it rated unachievable or in doubt .

The internet scheme was given an amber/red rating, meaning that successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas .

However, the Norfolk team was quick to allay those concerns, saying the successful delivery was being judged against whether all the various contracts would finish by the original completion target of 2015 not whether their funding was in jeopardy.

In any case, programme director Karen O Kane said the Better Broadband for Norfolk project was still on schedule to be completed by the end of 2015 as promised.

It is absolutely going ahead, she said.

For Norfolk, because we were the first council to sign off the BDUK framework we are still on schedule to complete by the end of 2015. The money is still there and it is all progressing.

The earliest contracts, like Norfolk, will still complete by the target date but the later the other counties sign their contracts, the later they will complete. But nobody has got any threat at all.

All of these projects will still deliver what they would have delivered. It is just that some have started later, so they will finish later than 2015.

Survey work is being carried out on Norfolk ahead of the first installation works, and the county council expects to announce the first of eight phases of the Better Broadband project in the summer.

Miss O Kane said the reason some contracts were delayed is because BDUK was awaiting State Aid approval from the EU, which regulates any public subsidies which could have the potential to distort competition and affect trade between member states.

If we want to make a public subsidy for a project we have to comply with State Aid approval, to justify that there is market failure and that this is the only way this infrastructure will be provided, she said. Until the State Aid approval happened nationally, nobody could let a contract locally.

That took longer than everybody hoped it would, and that is why some of the contracts got signed later than anticipated.

A DCMS spokesperson said: The data in the (Major Projects Authority) report is now six months old.

State Aid approval had not been obtained at that time, which was a key factor in the project being awarded an amber/red status.

That has now been resolved and more than half of the 44 projects are in the delivery phase.

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