COUNTY council leaders’ decision to plough about £8million of taxpayers’ money into a scheme to increase broadband speeds in Worcestershire has been labelled ‘diabolical’.
Coun Peter McDonald’s latest comments come after it emerged a ‘measly’ 17 per cent had signed up to the £20million Superfast Worcestershire programme.
Worcestershire County Council is contributing up to £8.5million in a bid to help the BT-run project make faster broadband speeds available for 57,000 homes and businesses by June next year.
However, the Tory leadership’s decision to stump up the cash has been strongly criticised by the Labour group, with its leader, Coun McDonald, saying he did not believe there was enough interest.
“We have destroyed nearly every service the county council has ever been responsible for and here we are giving one of the richest companies in Europe £8million so they can advance their business,” he said.
“And this is all for a measly 17 per cent take-up.
“After this investment we can see the outcome and the outcome is diabolical. We opposed it in the first place and the outcome has proved why.”
But Coun Simon Geraghty, cabinet member for economy, skills and infrastructure, insisted the amount of people who had signed up to the project in Worcestershire was above the national average when compared to other areas at a similar point in their deployment.
He also told The Observer the council would start to get money back from BT once they reached 20 per cent take-up.
“Coun McDonald is saying ‘people aren’t taking up broadband’, but my answer to that is that when you compare us with other councils we’re actually above the average nationally,” he said.
“We have still got another year to go to get up to 90 per cent and another three years to get up to 95 per cent because we’re going into really rural communities.
“So as we roll it out more we would expect take up to get up.”
With more than 30,000 of homes and businesses in Worcestershire having access to high-speed fibre broadband at the half-way mark of the programme, Coun Geraghty said he was confident the scheme would be a success.
“We want the vast majority of Worcestershire to be able to access faster broadband because in the future it will be as important as what it was to have a phone line many years ago,” he said.
“So it is important that we continue to focus on stimulating demand for the service and ensuring residents and businesses are aware they need to sign-up when fibre reaches their area in order to benefit from improved speeds.”