Contemptuous — pouring our money after bad

It seem that the wi-fi company to which Swindon Borough Council has loaned almost £½M of our money may be running a little short of cash. At a meeting of the council’s cabinet this coming Wednesday, there is a request to significantly relax some of the conditions of the loan.

Whilst fifteen out of the original nineteen Highworth progress measures have been considered to have been met, four have not been fully met to date…. These four measures, however, do not represent a significant enough risk to justify placing constraints on generating revenue by slowing down the roll-out of the Wi-Fi network across the rest of Swindon. All four measures are still expected to be achieved, however, variations are requested on the timing and scale of these.

Four out of 19 measures failed is not good, especially as they are some of the more measurable measures. And the failure to fulfil them indicates that the business case was significantly less robust than the likes of Mr Bluh would have us believe.

Measure 1: Originally stated: “Highworth network installed, working and accessible.”
Proposed variation: Highworth network installed, working and accessible to 90% of households and a commitment made that the two remaining router installations that enable consistent coverage for the outstanding 10% of Highworth will be completed within a week of planning consent being granted.

That’s not too significant of itself: 100% coverage is never a sensible measure. That it’s a consequence of the company not noticing that there are hills in Highworth, is rather more worrying. One would hope that they have learnt from this.

Measure 2: Originally stated: “Private sector sponsorship or commitment to future funding, to the value of at least £20,000, secured by end of Quarter 1.”
Proposed Variation: Expressions of interest received from the private and or public sector for investment once a Borough wide network is available.

So that’s replacing private sector money with a vague promise of more tax-payers’ money.

Measure 3: Originally stated: “Sold – at least 100 private use packages by the end of Quarter 1.”
Measure 4: Originally stated: “Sold – at least 25 business packages by the end of Quarter 1.”
Proposed Variation: The measures 3 and 4 be combined and changed into a single measure : “Sold – some business and private packages by end March”.

That’s a clear, easily measurable sales target being replaced by something vague and far less stringent. Just how many less than 125 packages is ‘some’? The council paper states the number of ‘packages’ sold:

as of Monday the 2nd March 5 packages were sold.

5 out of a planned 100. That’s not just poor, that’s pathetic. Just how badly does the company need to fail to meet its sales targets for Mr Bluh to recognise a commercial disaster?

Mr Montaut has expressed some concerns about these changes.

I understand that the Conservative administration are eager to get wi-fi rolled out throughout the borough. However, there is an investigation into the wi-fi deal being undertaken by the council’s Internal Audit and there have been enquiries made by the district auditor into the deal…. The council and Digital City stand to be in a much worse financial position if the auditors find the wi-fi deal to be contemptuous.

As has become all too familiar, the response from Mr Bluh to those expressing concern, rather than addressing those concerns, is just dismissive.

I am deeply disappointed that the opposition party should be so desperate to score political points that they are willing to sabotage and undermine private sector investment in Swindon.

Just how stupid does Mr Bluh think we are? Since when has £½M of taxpayers’ money been regarded as private sector investment?

The Labour opposition is being contemptuous of the residents of the borough by failing to support this investment. The Labour opposition is jeopardising the borough’s economic future by trying to bring down Digital City.

The only contempt I can see is from Mr Bluh, who seems to behave as those this is his own private investment, rather than taxpayers’ money. Has Mr Bluh ever asked the residents of the borough if they wanted this investment?

Mr Hunt also appears either naïve or to take his funders — Swindon council tax payers — as fools.

First of all the investment is a contract — the council pull out of this, they break the contract and face penalties.

Err… remind me, who is it that has failed to meet 4 of 19 contractual obligations under the loan agreement?

This political scrap is 100 per cent damaging our business plan.

The plan seems rather damaged even without any political problems. And if you don’t like politics, you shouldn’t go begging for public sector money. And if Mr Hunt doesn’t like politics, he shouldn’t be making political comments himself.

It has been very, very frustrating and what stuns me is that the Labour group are preventing us getting on with rolling out free wi-fi, which is something that will increase social inclusion – something I thought was at the heart of their group.

Let’s also be clear that concern on this isn’t just political. If the decision to spend almost £½M of our money had been made openly, there would be far less concern. It was not. The basis on which the decision was made remains a secret. Whilst that secrecy remains, the scrutiny will continue. Investigation by the Audit Commission would be more than welcome.