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Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Why I don't feel like cheering

I ought to be upbeat and positive but I have this growing, nagging feeling of doom after the Chancellor's (hardly unexpected) announcement....

This blog post can be read at

Part of me is over the moon that Cumbria is getting some money for next gen broadband. Because I feel that if anywhere could show the rest of the country how it should be done, it is here.

But, part of me has this gnawing feeling that it could all go completely pear-shaped. And is probably likely to, if past experiences are anything to go by.

Firstly, there are people already leaping on the bandwagon who haven't put anywhere near as many hours into thinking about how to solve the Cumbria problem as others. Educating those people, (some of whom think they know it all already, others don't have the time nor the inclination to listen) is going to be an uphill struggle. And may fail.

Secondly, it's now about money. This shouldn't be about money, it should be about the endgame - which is ensuring that citizens and businesses, wherever they live, get a future-proof service. But the vultures are now circling, and their endgame is different. Theirs is much more selfish than that, seeking 'a pot of gold', in their own words.

Thirdly, there is only one man with whom I am entirely in agreement about what should be done in Cumbria - Barry Forde. Every other proposal I have heard is (sorry, dad), bullshit. He should just be permitted to get on with it, just as he WASN'T with Project Access - which was an almighty waste of money and a right royal cock-up. He already has the full support of MANY communities, and soon will have many more. If we could elect him as the North West Minister for JFDI Broadband, he'd win any vote hands down.

Fourthly, there is enough will in Cumbria to deliver a project which is self-sustaining, which generates sufficient funds to be independent of any requirement for future 'grants' or subsidies, which can expand from the surplus it generates because it is run in a business-like manner by Cumbrians, and which proves once and for all that the £28BN figure is a number generated to satisfy the incumbent's desires, and not based on what others can deliver ubiquituous next gen FTTH for.

Will we learn from past mistakes here in Cumbria? Somehow, something inside me is refusing to accept that we will.

I am hoping that the coming months will prove that Cumbria and Cumbrians are capable of shooting the vultures out of the air; hearing the sane voices not just the loudest, greediest ones; of ensuring that this pot of money is well-spent and well-spent several times over, not just once; and that the end result is a MODEL for others to follow, not dismiss as a failure.

I'm also hoping that the lessons learnt during this project are openly and honestly shared. One of the biggest short-comings the grant funding 'crack' we have become addicted to has engendered is the need for projects to gloss over issues or problems, not seek help elsewhere in case word leaks out and it upsets the funders (future and present), causing others elsewhere to re-invent the wheel, unnecessarily.

I'm not sure why I am feeling so despondent. I think I have joined the leagues of cynics. Must be my age!


Mark Holdstock said...

I tend to find myself agreeing with your sentiments. I think that part of the key to this for people, who know what they are talking about to watch those who are tasked with putting in the broadband very, very closely, and also very publicly right from the outset, contacts need to be established with the local and national media, so that those tasked with providing the next gen broadband know that they are being watched, and that their delivery or lack of it is being very publicly monitored. This will also need the engagement of the communities who are looking to get these services. Those who want to provide them need to to know that their performance is being watched by people who are fitted with industrial strength bullshit detectors

Cyberdoyle said...

Ha, great comment Mark! The reivers will be watching, have no fear. Northern folk don't like to see waste, and will make sure they get a bang for their buck.
Seeing as how they will be expected to work as well, it would go down very badly if they saw funding being wasted wouldn't it?
And nobody would like to meet a roaring reiver.

This project will work. We will get a model that can be replicated. We will get access to NGA or my name isn't cyberdoyle.
I have industrial BS detectors permanently on alert.

Anonymous said...

You are right to be concerned and to highlight the real risk that Cumbria is now seen as some latter-day gold rush, with oodles of taxpayers money up for grabs.

The way to ensure that each local community gets the best future-proof network possible is simple enough and scarily revolutionary too.

Allow local communities to make informed choices, give them the power to choose what best suits their presnt and future needs and above all ensure that all the options are laid out.

Not just the usual "leave it to BT" assumptions, let's ensure that folks know that there are better ways of proceeding in the community interest.

Mark is absolutely right to demand that the spotlight of blogging and media coverage be used to help ensure a genuinely transparent delivery process that delivers best value.

What I find most inspiring about Cumbria is the willingness of the local community to get stuck in and help make the Digital Future happen.

I guess it is not accident that Penrith and the Border was chosen as a Big Society vanguard :)

rob.hindle said...

great sentiments here
two key areas
enabling each community to drive / influence its own design and procurement process and,
following & reporting on each and every turn (enabling this should be part of the "ask" of the community and provider)

both of these will need Cumbria CC to take brave decisions and be ready to shift standard public procurement culture

the Reivers need to help make this happen - step forward Rory and friends and don't be slow to accept help where it is genuinely offered