Council refuses to bid for broadband cash

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NORTH Tyneside Council is one of only a handful of local authorities nationwide not bidding for government funding for faster broadband.

Councils throughout the UK put in bids for a share of £530m to enable them to provide 90 per cent of homes and businesses with access to superfast broadband.

North Tyneside Council was not among them, however, although it insists it will still hit that 90 per cent target by other means.

The authority would have had to match-fund any government grant, and council chiefs say the money would be better spent elsewhere.

However, Labour group leader Jim Allan believes the council has missed out by not bidding for the cash.

“When we were in power, we tried to implement faster broadband for residents and businesses, to work towards improving their lives,” he said.

“This is a backward step. There are some areas of the borough that are not going to benefit from faster broadband.”

However, a council spokesperson said: “We can give a firm commitment to our residents and business that we are absolutely committed to delivering superfast broadband where it is needed most in the borough and have been actively working with two of the UK’s main superfast broadband providers to ensure access across 91 per cent of the borough by 2015.

“The government funding on offer is only available through match-funding, which would require £800,000 of investment from the council.

“In this instance, given the pressures on resources at the present time, and the fact that we are already on track to exceed the government target of 90 per cent coverage by 2015, we feel that the benefits of increasing the coverage of superfast broadband across the remaining nine per cent of the borough, much of which is green-belt land, would be limited and therefore a low priority when deciding how best to spend council tax payers’ money.

“In addition, mobile broadband coverage of the borough is already good, with speeds of up to 20mbps, and the next generation of mobile broadband is also likely to be rolled out across the country shortly, well within the government’s target of 2015, ensuring any remaining gaps in broadband coverage will be addressed.

“We have already written to Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, to outline the authority’s position in relation to this.”

Mr Hunt said: “Most local authorities are making excellent progress in delivering superfast broadband, but there are still some that aren’t working hard enough or fast enough.

“We’ve put our money on the table, and now we need every council to do the same, for the sake of jobs, growth and public services in their area.”