Competition is strong for Norfolk broadband funding

The battle is on for vital broadband funding after Norfolk County Council was warned only five of 25 bids set to be submitted to the government will be successful this time around.

On Monday, Norfolk County Council, which has been working with Shaping Norfolk's Future and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, will submit its case for a grant from Broadband Delivery UK.

The case has been strengthened by an EDP campaign in which Norfolk businesses were asked to spell out why better broadband would help them. Hundreds have returned our forms, which will form part of the bid.

If successful, the money would be used towards a multi-million-pound scheme to give everyone in Norfolk access to speeds of at least 2Mbps.

But at a recent meeting with BDUK, part of the department for culture, media and sport, the county council's head of ICT was told just how tough the competition was.

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Karen O'Kane, who was in London with other bid contenders from across the country, said 25 people had indicated they would be applying for funding ahead of Monday's deadline.

But the first round of funding, which will see about �50m of a total of �530m handed out, will only award money to between three and five of the strongest projects.

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'They might pick the odd one or two more if they have some really exceptional bids,' said Mrs O'Kane. 'We will desperately want to be in this round because we want to get started straight away but that's not hugely good odds. We're doing absolutely everything we can to be in with a shot and we think we have demonstrated what it is they are looking to see in a bid.'

But she admitted every other local authority area was also likely to feel they had a strong case.

The government has decided to award funding in phases to ensure the market can cope and the companies needed to build the new infrastructure will be able to meet demand.

The remainder of the money will be awarded over the course of this parliament but additional bids will be allowed to enter later on, meaning competition will remain strong.

Mrs O'Kane said, while the council was confident it would win funding at some point, it would much rather get it as early as possible. She added: 'There is an awful big difference between being successful now and in two years' time. This is a big scale project and the benefits of improved broadband will all take time to kick in. It takes a while for companies and organisations to change the way they work so they get the benefits.'

County council leader Derrick Murphy said the authority would not give up without a fight.

He said: 'We've put a great deal of work into making this bid as strong as possible because we believe Norfolk deserves better broadband access sooner rather than later. So we would be disappointed if we weren't among the first few councils to receive funding but, with 25 bids being submitted, we have to accept this is a possibility. If this were to happen, it would in no way be the end of the story.'

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