A Tory promise of universal superfast broadband coverage for East Sussex has been ‘broken’, according to the Lib Dems.
Back in 2012 the authority committed £15m towards increasing access to faster internet speeds for residents and businesses, working with BT and Broadband Delivery UK, who have also contributed funding.
A scrutiny review was undertaken into the roll-out of the programme and a final report presented to the county council’s cabinet on Tuesday (June 6).
Barry Taylor (Con, Eastbourne – Meads), who introduced the report, called the project a ‘fantastic success’, while officers explained that more than 95 per cent coverage had been achieved.
Rupert Simmons (Con, Heathfield and Mayfield), lead member for economy, explained they were pursuing 100 per cent through a third phase of the project adding, “We do intend to get as close to 100 per cent as physically possible.”
But Kathryn Field (LDem, Battle and Crowhurst), deputy leader of the Lib Dem group, said, “The very last recommendation talks about creating a fact sheet to address misconceptions.
“The only misconception that needs addressing is the promise and it was a promise, it was not a ‘we will try our best’, it was a promise by Councillor Jones that every single household in this county would be enabled to receive superfast broadband.
“That has not happened. That is a promise that has been broken and our residents deserve better.”
Meanwhile David Tutt (LDem, Eastbourne – St Anthony’s), leader of the Lib Dem group, expressed being ‘disappointed’ at the report with some of the recommendations ‘all around trying to manage down people’s expectations’.
He would have liked to have seen ‘punchier’ recommendations, and suggested if they wanted to ensure universal superfast broadband coverage they may need to lobby Government.
In response Keith Glazier (Con, Rye and Eastern Rother), leader of the county council, said, “Let’s be absolutely clear, when Councillor Jones made promises all those years ago he was absolutely convinced what he was saying was going to be true, but actually the world changes.
“The ability to deliver, as has been explained earlier, was not simple and straightforward. Let’s move on.
“At the end of the day I have been leader for four years. Councillor Jones has not been a councillor for four years.
“We can harp on about the past as many do or we can actually say that what we are currently delivering is a credit to the team that are undertaking this.”
Cllr Simmons later reiterated they were still aiming for 100 per cent, while Rupert Clubb, director of communities, economy, and transport, explained how the work was governed by state aid rules.
He said, “Despite our wish to invest everywhere there is constraint that applies and if people are living frankly in the middle of nowhere then the costs to provide a service to them are expensive and may fall outside of the value for money criteria.”
Meanwhile John Barnes (Con, Rother North West) felt they were handicapped by central Government decisions which ‘got in the way of making the kind of progress we would have wanted to and anticipated’.
The report called for further steps to communicate when faster speeds are available, extra advice for residents and businesses so they can check for themselves about the broadband coverage and speed they can receive, and information made available outlining premises that may not be connected to superfast broadband.
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