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Parties clash over BCP Council plans for £6m private IT network

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AROUND £6m is expected to be spent putting a private IT network in place for BCP Council.

The decision will mean more streets being dug up, although some of the work will be carried out in conjunction with transport improvements, writes Trevor Bevins of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

The 70km fibre IT network will connect council buildings throughout Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, passing 62 of the authority’s 85 properties.

Finance for the project is expected to come from the council’s £50m Futures Fund.
Finance for the project is expected to come from the council’s £50m Futures Fund.

The council claimed the spending on its own 'wide area network' will save money in the long-run and help the authority with its ambitions to become a "smart council".

Critics have claimed the investment could be redundant within a decade – which is denied by Conservative council leaders.

The finance for the project is expected to come from the council’s £50m Futures Fund.

Opposition councillors have questioned how the project can be properly considered when the authority is still unclear about the shape of its future operations. An attempt to delay the project until additional details are made public was defeated at this week’s overview and scrutiny committee.

Council leader Cllr Drew Mellor defended the proposals saying that the project will break even in six years. He said the "awesome connectivity" it will provide is essential to the future smooth working of the council with savings being made by installing fibre cable at the same time as transport improvements.

Cllr Drew Mellor
Cllr Drew Mellor

“It will create opportunities to deliver massive internal savings on our own connectivity and give us control of our own network,” he said.

Almost half of the new ducting and fibre is expected to be installed during the course of the council’s Transforming Travel construction work, reducing the cost by 40%.

Christchurch Liberal Democrat Cllr Mike Cox said the borrowing for the project was being paid back over 50 years and claimed the case for the spending had not been properly laid out: “It’s clearly a loss for the council, but it’s being dressed up as a profit.”

Deputy council leader Cllr Philip Broadhead said that by having its own network the council would make savings on leasing services from the private sector and could, in time, offer any spare capacity on the open market.

“This unlocks a whole host of opportunities for the future and fits with our transformation programme, our award-winning ‘smart place, smart city’ work for the future,” he said.

Cllr Vikki Slade, a Lib Dem, said the proposals showed that the majority of Poole and Christchurch would not be covered by the network and “a fair chunk” of Bournemouth as well.

Cllr Vikki Slade
Cllr Vikki Slade

“I struggle to see this as a priority when there is a £25m hole in the budget next year. It feels like ownership for the sake of ownership when we could say to City Fibre, or anyone else, can you work with us on this?”

Cllr Andy Hadley described the proposals being made on “a wing and a prayer”, claiming that the business case needed much more work.

Cllr Mark Howell questioned maintenance costs and why the council had chosen not to work with the private sector.

The Smart Places Gigabit Fibre scheme will now be considered by the ruling cabinet towards the end of the month before going to full council for a final decision.

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