Public Accounts Committee met with BDUK and BT yesterday

Margaret Hodge chaired yet another meeting of the PAC to quiz BDUK (Sue Owen, Andrew Field and Chris Townsend) about the value for money fo the BDUK Superfast Broadband programme.

The entire discussion can be viewed - HERE.

BT remains unable to explain the apparent correlation between rural business parks, and lack of BDUK broadband deployment. Perhaps BT sells leased lines into such business parks, and prefers the substantial margin on those? Perhaps it is simply due to the metrics used for population density (the magical 95% target by 2017), as fewer businesses are crammed into a smaller area? It doesn't quite add up, either way, given that BDUK have estimated the return on investment from the 1.7b of tax payer money is estimated to be 20 to 1, fuelled substantially by SME businesses hiring more people in rural areas. This is confirmed by Andrew Field at 14:42:06 in the recording.

At 14:40 into the recording Richard Bacon MP then lays out a wonderful comparison with HS2, which is estimated to provide a cost to benefit ratio of 2 to 1. That was TWO to one. For every pound spent on HS2, the UK gets two back. Let's think about this .... for every pound spent on rural superfast broadband, we get TWENTY back. That was TWENTY to one or ten times better.

BDUK is getting 1.7b, and HS2 is getting 50bn (latest guess).

Why are we doing HS2? Is the treasury needing to revisit the value proposition for our tax money, perhaps?

At 15:07 into the recording Margaret Hodge asks Sue Owen whether BDUK was blackmailed by BT, as BT refused to provide more openness without renegotiating the entire contract, exposing BDUK to EU subsidy application all over again. There is, for the first time in my mind, an agreement by BT here that they are not being open about the pricing of the project, as required by the BT NDAs which they mandate with each local authority. The interpretation of "open" meaning one thing to BT and quite another to the PAC.

Still the discussion wanders onto upload speeds, satellite and Wifi services, none of which have the capability to secure our competitive future in the global markets we have today. The only answer is fibre to every home and business. Any other spend is a regret spend. My hope is, and the beginnings of realisation of this are in this PAC meeting, is that our government will begin to understand this, before I shuffle off this mortal coil.