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Giving BT £24m for Cumbria broadband is ‘nonsense’, says MP

Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale also believes government's ‘Big Society’ has resulted in money not being spent

A Cumbrian MP has slammed the ongoing broadband debacle in the region, saying that there is no way that BT, the last remaining bidder to rollout fibre in the area, should be given the full £24 million funding.

Speaking to Computerworld UK, Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale Tim Farron also expressed dismay at David Cameron's 'Big Society' initiative, claiming that it was stifling action in Cumbria.

This news comes as it was revealed this week that Fujitsu has pulled out of the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) bidding process to secure funding from Cumbria County Council to deploy fibre in the area, leaving BT as the last remaining supplier.

The Conservative-led council was allocated £24 million over a year ago to get broadband into rural areas, but after a drawn out procurement process it recently rejected both BT and Fujitsu's bids for the project, effectively sending them back the drawing board. This has now resulted in Fujitsu pulling out altogether.

"I don't think that Cumbria Council has done the wrong thing by playing hard to get with large multinationals - there is a great fear that they will have rings run around them by these huge outfits," said Farron.

"Having said that, they have been awarded over £24 million and they haven't spent a penny of it yet. That's a bit pathetic."

He added: "In the last 12 months the whole of Norway has been connected to 100Mbps and we are still messing about. What I have called upon them to do is use the money intelligently. Don't just think you have to have a big contract deal with one company."

Farron is keen for the council to work with Network Rail to allow communities to get connected to superfast broadband using cable and connections along some of its lines running through the region. BT would then be allocated some money to work on regions where this is not possible.

"You can make a whole bunch of smaller schemes come to fruition by working with people like Network Rail. This will create a sense of 'neighbourhood envy', whereby other surrounding communities will want to follow suit," he said.

"The idea that BT should be handed the entire £24 million is nonsense. It's quite clear that BT was planning to use some of that money to do things that it would do anyway. The idea that a penny of that money should go into deploying broadband in Carlisle, for example, is outrageous."

Farron also complained that the prime minister's plan to allow councils to be in charge, rather than being pressured by plans from Whitehall, has resulted in little action.

"We have been too hung up on this idea of 'Big Society', where we have allowed a county council to pontificate and twiddle its thumbs for over a year," he said.

"Central government should be concerned about that; it should be worried that money is not only being spent badly, but that it's just not being spent."


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