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Fresh attack on council's faster broadband scheme
WORCESTERSHIRE'S £20 million faster broadband project has come under fresh attack - with politicians claiming taxpayers deserved a better deal.
During fiery exchanges in a Worcestershire County Council meeting, the Conservative leadership was asked if it had made "a mistake" in signing the deal with BT.
The long-awaited scheme will see new cables laid beneath the ground to connect 90 per cent of properties in Worcestershire to faster internet speeds.
It has long been hailed as a massive boost for the economy, benefitting businesses and homes in rural areas in particular.
But some councillors say the authority has paid too much into the pot, stumping up £8.5 million, while £3.3 million has come from central Government funding and the rest from BT.
Critics of the project said the telecommunications giant or a rival firm would likely have made the investment into Worcestershire anyway.
Councillor Paul Denham, a Labour politician, said: "We've been given this figure that 90 per cent of businesses will get superfast broadband, but 75 per cent of them would have got it anyway.
"Yet despite that the whole of Worcestershire's taxpayers are paying for it - how can you justify spending this money and giving it to a large PLC with no return?"
The question was aimed at Councillor Simon Geraghty, the deputy leader and cabinet member for economy, skills and infrastructure, who signed the deal.
During the debate Councillor Luke Mallett, also from Labour, said it was a "mistake" that the deal had gone ahead without the figures being changed.
The comments were the second attack on the project since it was signed off last year.
Worcestershire's broadband scheme is considered one of, if not the most advanced in the country since it includes 90 per cent of businesses, not just homes.
The Government offered local authorities incentives to agree faster broadband deals last year, but most councils have focused on just homes.
The council has also insisted the deal would not have gone ahead without a taxpayers' injection, and it would have harmed the economy had the agreement failed.
Cllr Geraghty said: "Whilst it is true to say BT has rolled out faster broadband to urban areas, the same is not true of rural ones.
"We certainly don't want an urban/rural divide. Take Redditch for an example - there, 50 per cent of businesses will get superfast broadband. Until now it was relatively low.
"It's about being open for business."
Under the deal BT says it will ensure 55,000 properties get superfast speeds in a huge three-year overhaul.
It will especially benefit households in rural parts of Worcestershire where speeds are notoriously slow including Upton, Evesham, Malvern and Droitwich, but also Worcester.
The speed, defined as anything above 24 megabytes per second, is enough to download huge files, watch films or music videos, and flick through web pages instantly.
Work is currently taking place to determine the cable locations.