National Audit Office Exposes Problems With BDUK Rural Broadband

The National Audit Office (NAO), the independent body responsible for monitoring UK government departments and agencies, is set to criticise Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) and question whether it provides value for money, in a report to be published next month.

The £1 billion project that aims to connect 12 million rural households to the Internet and make sure the UK residents enjoy “the best broadband in Europe” has been branded a “train crash waiting to happen” due to lack of competition in its delivery. However, it might be already too late to make serious changes to the way BDUK is implemented.

Judgement time

According to BDUK guidelines, in three years at least 90 percent of premises in the UK should have access to fibre broadband, while the rest should be connected to a network capable of at least 2Mbps. Half of the £1 billion funding required for the roll-out is provided by the central government, and half by local authorities.

The investigation into the way BDUK operates began after The Telegraph published a story in which it accused BT of inflating the prices for broadband connections, something the network provider vehemently denies.

BT has won every single BDUK contract so far – and is the only remaining bidder, after Fujitsu withdrew from the programme, complaining that the competition wasn’t fair. Several smaller companies have also expressed their disappointment at not being able to bid on contracts.

However, it is likely that BT is already too involved in the programme, and cancelling any contracts or altering the terms would cost the government too much. The network operator could appear before NAO to discuss the findings of the report in mid-July.

“I understand that NAO is deeply critical of the approach taken by DCMS [Department For Culture, Media and Sport] – it will give the Public Accounts Committee all the hooks they need to investigate more wisely,” a source told The Telegraph.

DCMS has also commissioned its own report to establish whether the programme was serving its purpose and spending the taxpayers’ money well. “From the very start we have built multiple controls into our contracts to ensure value for money, including independent assessments, robust accounting and clawback clauses,” said a statement from the Department.

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Max Smolaks

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

View Comments

  • How much money is being utterly wasted on the BDUK Quango, Council Procurement etc.

    It was fairly self evident from the start only BT would have the network reach to deliver this, and a national "cost +" deal should have been struck, shovel the subsidy money to BT and tell them to get the hell on with it.... with incentives for early delivery, and penalties for tardiness.

  • It has been clear to everyone from the start that this has all been a stitch up and that BT were the only ones who could tender. It is also clear that they don't need the money, but they have to prevent anyone else getting it. I just hope the NAO can expose all this, and stop it ever happening again. This is the second time BT have grabbed all the funding, the first was in 2003 to 'enable uneconomic exchanges' and now everyone on those exchanges is classed by them, and by our toothless regulator ofcom has having access to 'broadband'. A distinct untruth. Bending the truth, just because one is connected to a 'broadband enabled exchange' does not mean they get a service.
    The same thing will happen to the poor suckers on cabinets. Unless you live on top of one you won't get 'superfast' but statistics will say you do. Councillors will all crow that they are the best connected county in the country and the people won't be heard.
    The digital divide will grow ever wider, as long line lengths mean people remain analogue, and all the bright innovative plans will wither and die, and we lose our place in the global digital village.
    Until every citizen has a fit for purpose connection that they can afford we'll never be able to compete. Patching up an old phone network with public money is a disgrace, and a train wreck waiting to happen. The civil servants in charge of this fiasco should hang their heads in shame. And the ministers should be a bit more canny and not be fooled quite so easily. Yes minister, I am looking at you...

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