By CHRIS HILL, Rural affairs correspondent
Friday, August 24, 2012
A pivotal date has been set in the search for the telecoms contractor who will construct Norfolk’s urgently-needed new broadband network in partnership with the county council.
A special, single-item cabinet meeting will take place on September 10, when councillors will be asked to choose their private partner for the Better Broadband for Norfolk project, which aims to bring superfast internet to as much of the county as possible.
Norfolk County Council has secured £15m of government funding to match its own financial stake in the scheme, but needs the added investment and expertise of the telecommunications industry.
The Department for Culture Media and Sport has selected BT Wholesale and Fujitsu for its “national framework”, making them the only two firms authorised to bid for county contracts including Norfolk’s.
Prospective contractors have until August 29 to submit their bids, at which point the Better Broadband for Norfolk project team at the council will begin evaluating rival offers. A contract recommendation will then be made for cabinet members to consider at the meeting.
More than 15,000 Norfolk homes and businesses who registered for the EDP-backed Say Yes to Better Broadband campaign have played their part in proving the demand for the upgrades, and encouraging the bids.
Ian Mackie, deputy leader of the council and vice chairman of the Better Broadband for Norfolk Steering Group, said: “Councillors and officers have been working hard to get the project to this stage and now better broadband across Norfolk is close to becoming a reality.
“We know the difference faster broadband can make to people living, working and running businesses in Norfolk, how having it opens up opportunities and not having it can really hold people back. We currently have huge inequality in broadband access in Norfolk, with tens of thousands of properties unable to receive even a basic broadband service.
“Every week, every day Norfolk spends without these better broadband services is holding us back as a county, which is why we have arranged a special meeting of Cabinet for 10 September. This means that the contract award will go through all the correct democratic processes and, all being well, work with our new partner to deliver better broadband to homes and businesses can begin at the earliest opportunity. The Better Broadband for Norfolk team are working to an incredibly tight timescale to make this happen, and I am very grateful to them for that, and all their work to date.”
Following the cabinet’s decision on September 10, the council will observe a 10-day mandatory “standstill period”, although the bidders will be notified of the outcome during this time. The contract will be formally awarded on September 21 and work to begin installation is due to start early next year.
Ann Steward, cabinet member for economic development at Norfolk County Council, said: “September will be an exciting month for us and anyone who is frustrated by poor or no access to broadband in Norfolk.
“All the work we’ve done so far has been laying the foundations for us to get to the day when we award the contract. Because we are expecting a significant investment from the private sector partner as part of the contract, it’s at this stage we will know exactly how much money we have for the project and how far it can go.”
-The special cabinet meeting will take place at 10.30am on Monday, 10 September at County Hall in Norwich. Members of the public are welcome to attend.