MP urges ministers to save communities from losing access to broadband funding

September 22, 2021 9:34 AM
Originally published by Tim Farron

This morning, Cumbrian MP Tim Farron led a Westminster Hall debate in Parliament to press ministers to intervene to make sure that rural communities in Cumbria don't miss out on funding for broadband.

The rules around the Government's Project Gigabit scheme mean that the community-led company B4RN would no longer be able to bid to provide broadband to many areas in the county.

B4RN have warned that this will force them to 'immediately and significantly cut back build plans in Cumbria' as a result.

That means that local communities who were set to be connected by B4RN could see their broadband be significantly delayed, and some homes in rural areas may now be missed out altogether.

Speaking in Westminster Hall, Tim said: "How can the Government possibly claim to be levelling up on the one hand, when on the other they are removing the chance for people living in the most rural areas of Cumbria and Northumberland to access hyper-fast fibre-optic broadband in their homes?

"B4RN is a model the rest of the country could learn from and emulate. Instead, it would appear that Ministers - at least so far - are not interested in learning from success, and instead want to impose failure.

"That is why I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak today, and to plead with our new Minister to listen to B4RN, to local MPs, and more importantly to our communities, and not be the Minister responsible for promising Project Gigabit and delivering Project Pull-the-Plug."

Responding, the new Digital Minister Julia Lopez MP said: "I cannot stress enough how much the Department admires and applauds B4RN in their unique community-minded approach. They are almost unique in the UK and we don't want to dampen that enthusiasm or indeed that business model.

"I want to reassure the honourable member that we are listening hard to people's concerns and we will continue to be open-minded about the best approach, and I hope that this debate is the start of that conversation, certainly with me in my new role."

Michael Lee, the CEO of B4RN, travelled down to Westminster to attend the debate. He said: "I was really pleased to be able to travel down to Westminster to attend this important debate and am grateful to Tim and to the other Cumbrian MPs who took part and made the case for B4RN.

"Following the debate, I was granted a meeting with officials from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport where we had a really constructive discussion.

"I am now hopeful that we are working towards a solution which will allow us to continue to deliver fibre optic infrastructure to as many communities as possible, as quickly as possible."