Decision for the second stage roll out of the Connecting Devon & Somerset Superfast Broadband Programme

Following weeks of discussions, the Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) Programme have been unable to secure a value for money deal and BT was today told it would not be awarded a £35m public-funded contract for the next phase of the planned superfast broadband roll-out.

CDS’ decision follows lengthy discussions with BT and BDUK – the Government agency responsible for the national broadband roll-out. It emerged that BT could not meet the Government’s and CDS target of achieving 95% superfast broadband coverage by the end of 2017.

BT’s best offer does not meet the public value for money standards required under Section 151 of the Local Government Act. Finance officers who have a fiduciary duty to tax-payers said the offer was high risk.

After seeking clarification from BT about their bid, the Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) Partnership have decided to reissue the tender for this work as an open procurement exercise. The local authority partners of CDS are naturally disappointed on behalf of local residents and businesses that they could not agree a contract at this stage.

BT has said they would not be able to deliver the extent of superfast broadband required by 2017, prompting the partnership to re-engage in the market through an open procurement process.

CDS is the largest single superfast broadband programme in England and makes an important contribution to the Government’s national targets for the broadband roll-out

In January this year Connecting Devon & Somerset announced its plans to publish a tender for the second stage of its Superfast broadband programme, which will bring a further £45m investment and hoped to increase broadband coverage to at least 95% across the region.

As well as an open tender covering the Exmoor and Dartmoor National Parks, the results of which will be announced next week, CDS also issued a tender for the rest of the area using the national government procurement framework, through which BT responded.

Councillor David Hall, Cabinet Member for Somerset County Council, said: “This is a huge disappointment for us. BT have let the County Councils down, they have also let the Connecting Devon and Somerset Partnership down, and worst of all they have let residents, communities and businesses in Somerset and Devon down. We have a duty to seek best value for all our residents and their tender for the next phase of the programme was just not up to scratch.

“We are actually aware of the importance of Superfast Broadband for all our residents but we also needed to make sure we got value for money on behalf of our taxpayers. In taking this action we have acted in the best interests of those who live and run businesses in the region and we will now do everything we can to minimise the delay this causes to the programme. CDS will issue more details once timescales for a new procurement are confirmed. CDS will continue to work with BT on the delivery of phase one of the programme to meet the Government’s target of 90% coverage by the end of 2016.”

Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, Cabinet Member for Devon County Council, said: “I feel let down by BT and their lack of ambition, as well as their unwillingness to negotiate a good deal for the residents and businesses of Devon and Somerset! What they were offering did not represent good value for money and would not have addressed the issues of providing universal provision.

“I am only too well aware of how important good broadband connections are to our rural businesses and residents. But we’re committed to delivering value for money for our residents in everything we do. In all conscience we couldn’t sign up to this new deal because it just didn’t deliver. We are, however, still on track through the first phase of the project. We will now go to an open procurement process without delay. I am determined that this should be done as quickly as possible.”