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BDUK chief exec: Extend business broadband vouchers to 50 cities

Tuesday, December 9th 2014 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The man leading the government’s business broadband voucher scheme says he wants to increase the number of cities taking part from 22 to 50.

It was announced last week that the project, which was due to close in March 2015, would run for another year.

“It was a very exciting moment when the chancellor announced the extension of the scheme,” said Chris Townsend, chief executive of Broadband Delivery UK.

He was speaking last Friday (5th December) at the Super Connected Cities seminar in Birmingham organised by the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA).

The Super Connected Cities scheme was launched in 2013 but has faced criticism over a lack of take-up, leading to the application process being simplified – businesses now have to supply only one quote from a supplier as part of their application – and the launch of a nationwide advertising campaign.

“The grant scheme does work, it just needs promotion behind it,” Mr Townsend told the seminar.

“We have now allocated 5,700 vouchers – 60% of those since 22nd September when we simplified the process.

“Ideally I would like 50 cities involved – there were some big cities missing from the first tranche like Glasgow.”

The scheme is currently available in 22 cities – Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Brighton and Hove, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Coventry, Derby, Derry/Londonderry, Edinburgh, Leeds, Bradford, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Newport, Oxford, Perth, Portsmouth, Salford and York.

Mr Townsend added: “I also want to work with INCA and its members to improve connectivity in business parks".

John Duncan, business development officer at Superconnected Leeds Bradford, said the two cities had given 850 vouchers to businesses, the most outside of London.

“We’ve got £9million left to spend, what happens after March 2015?”

Dean Creamer, BDUK’s deputy director, said that whatever money was left from the voucher scheme’s original £150m fund would be topped up to make £40m available from March.

“This will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis,” he said, adding that his advice to cities would be to spend funds as quickly as possible before March 2015.

Malcolm Corbett, chief executive of INCA said it was “a good thing the voucher scheme has been extended to give businesses more time to take advantage of it”.

Chris Pateman, chief executive of the Federation of Communication Services, added: “In terms of government interventions, [the voucher scheme] is the most democratic and business-oriented.”

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