Broadband minister gives Norfolk campaign hope
The minister for broadband yesterday said Norfolk was a prime candidate for a share of a multi-million-pound pot of government funding – if it got its bid right.
Ed Vaizey told the EDP that money available from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's Broadband Delivery UK unit was intended for rural counties just like ours.
As he worked his way across East Anglia yesterday, the minister, whose role includes overseeing the roll out of super-fast broadband across the country, said: 'Norfolk will get funding – it will just be a matter of when. It's very important we get the bids right so we know the money will be spent sensibly and efficiently.'
Broadband Delivery UK has a pot of �530m to award during this parliament which aims to bring parts of the country not likely to benefit from private-sector investment up to speed. Norfolk County Council, in conjunction with Shaping Norfolk's Future and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, is in the process of putting together a bid for more than �10m which will be used to give every person in the county access to speeds of at least 2Mbps.
The entire programme – which is likely to see a mixture of fibre cables, wireless networks and mobile signals used to build a Norfolk-wide infrastructure – is likely to cost between �70m and �80m.
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Mr Vaizey promised that, once submitted in time for the April 18 deadline, the county's bid would be looked at 'very carefully'.
As part of the EDP and the county council's joint Broadband: Back the Bid campaign, every business and voluntary group in Norfolk has been urged to share their stories of sluggish speeds and explain how their company or organisation would benefit from improved broadband access.
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But the minister for culture, communications and creative industries said he also wanted to be sure any successful bid had a strong team behind it capable of seeing the project through.
He said: 'We want them to show they've got a clear and coherent plan to get broadband out to their communities. We're looking for bids with a team in place to help implement and supervise the procurement process and supervise the roll-out.'
Mr Vaizey said he wanted to be sure successful groups would be able to make rapid progress once funding was allocated.
Last night Norfolk County Council leader Derrick Murphy said he felt buoyed by the minister's comments and, more than ever, believed the county's bid was just what the government was looking for.
He said there was already a huge ground swell of support for the project, with MPs and councils giving it their backing, and it remained a key objective of the New Anglia LEP.
Mr Murphy said: 'We have got our team in place, we've got our business case in place. We're raring to go now. We've done all the basic ground work we need to do to make sure this bid is very, very successful.'
The county council and its partners have been working towards this bid for the past 18 months to make sure Norfolk does not miss out.
Mr Murphy said broadband was too important for them to risk being under-prepared.
He said: 'We realise this is pivotally important for the county. We want businesses to grow and to attract new businesses to Norfolk – so we need fast broadband. We want to make sure our rural communities are not isolated – so we need fast broadband. It's absolutely critical. Given the fact that it's such an important issue we have put in every effort we can to make sure we have got the team ready to take this forward.'
Mr Vaizey said successful bids would also have to show they had funding of their own to support the project and would not be entirely dependent on the BDUK money.
Council leader Mr Murphy said: 'We have organised all that already. We put money up front to show our commitment.'