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Denials, Defaults & Defamation- Swindon WiFi’asco Down, But Not Quite Dead

It’s been a tension-filled week in the local Blogosphere as Swindons besieged Conservative politicians tried to turn a  cold war of logical WiFi’asco scrutiny into a hot  war of political rhetoric and slanderous hyperbole.

As with most politicians statements made regarding the WiFi’asco,  we have come to expect the party-line is faithfully regurgitated first,  then followed up with contradictory or untrue ‘supporting’ statements.  I wasn’t disappointed with this weeks offering, in fact I was surprised to see that they have also added slander  to the ingredients list, so there must be an election coming.

If there is to be a battle of wits over the demise or success of the WiFi’asco,  it appears that the first three Conservative politicians on the battlefield have arrived unarmed.

Anyway…..

…..On Monday January 17th 2011 I said the following on the Talkswindon.org forum:

“Local media sources, (several of them), have told the Lamplighters network that they are running out of patience with Director of Digital City (UK) Ltd and Deputy Leader of Swindon Borough Council, Councillor Garry Perkins.

When Journalists from different publications have approached Cllr Perkins, (in connection with articles they are writing), they are told:  a ‘Major announcement’ regarding the Wifi’asco is coming tomorrow, next week, month etc.

The general consensus seems to be that bad news is on the way but Cllr Perkins is stalling for time.

I understand that John ‘Rikki’ Hunt has been unavailable for comment for some weeks

leaks (in confidence) to: leaks@talkswindon.org

My phone rang for the first time a matter of minutes after posting the above.  It did not stop rining all day and  I received more than one media email from ‘out of Borough’.  It would be fair to say that there is more interest in the toxic miasma of official obfuscation and lies surrounding the Swindon WiFi’asco, than there is in the project itself.

Swindons Conservative councillors are well aware that the WiFi scheme has been lying dead in the water for the last 11 months but, as long as Garry Perkins -  Deputy Leader of the Council, (and also a Director of Digital City (UK) Ltd), was prepared to growl on-cue at any media type wandering into their barnyard, Swindons Tort Councillors weren’t about to rock the trough unneccessarily.  Fat, dumb and reasonably happy, (as far as the WiFiasco was concerned),  would be one way of describing the groups attitude towards the WiFi’asco, ‘Mushrooms’ (kept in the dark and fed on bullshit) would be another.

Much was discussed at this meeting, (more of which will be blabbed about in blogs yet to be written), but the salient point for those interested in the WiFi’asco is that the group apparently agreed that none of them would discuss the WiFi’asco publicly for at least another fortnight.  Readers, (and Conservatives present at that meeting), might wish to ask themselves whether the reason given to justify this moritorium on WiFi’asco discussion was genuine, or just the latest example of a well-used method of avoiding answering awkward questions.

The moritorium on WiFi’asco chatter didn’t last long though because,  unbeknownst to the towns Tories as they laid their weary heads down to sleep, Scott D’Arcy of the Swindon Advertiser was already putting the finishing touches to an article which would be published early the next morning – Tuesday the 18th of January 2011:

New investors sought by wi-fi firm


THERE was a fresh twist in the wi-fi saga last night when Digital City announced it was looking for new private investment.

Last night, Mr Hunt confirmed he was still leading the project and investors were being sought to try and get it back on track.

He said: “The goal is to get the progress that we are sadly lacking.

“We are just looking at financing the business – we have been delayed and now it’s about how do we move forward quickly.

“It would be a great opportunity if we can raise the finance.

“It is absolutely key, and it always has been for me, that we get the loan paid on time.

“I don’t think it’s a potential stumbling block so long as somebody’s got the appetite. I think it’s important that the council stays there as a partner.

So, let’s take a little sideways look at the chronology: On the Monday night Mr Hunt is using phrases like ‘investors being sought’, ‘it would be a great opportunity if we can raise the finance’, ‘so long as somebody’s got the appetite’, but he was not saying that he had found a potential investor, or that one was imminently about to ‘buy into’ the WiFi.  The date of  Scott’s article confirms that Mr Hunt made those comments on the night before the publication of the article, i.e, Monday the 17th of January – the same night that the Conservatives had held their monthly ‘group’ meeting – during which they agreed not to discuss the WiFi’asco for at least another couple of weeks.

Tuesday morning dawned and listeners to BBC Wiltshires’ Graham Mack heard Graham talking to Chris Watts about the WiFiasco.  (You can download the podcast of  that interview here).   The interview was described by one listener as:  “Great interview this morning on the radio by Chris Watts.  Extremely fair and factual”.  I’m not surprised in the slightest by this comment.   Chris and I have spent the last year scrutinising and getting to know the WiFi’asco inside-out,  (albeit using different methodologys),  and I have never known him be anything less than fair, honest or very, very diligent in his data gathering and consideration of the same.

Wednesday the 19th of January: My day started with multiple telephone calls with enquiries from da meedja, all wondering if I thought the WiFi’asco was dead,  had ceased to be,  or was about to become an ex-Wifi’asco.   I told my enquirers that there was a formal Cabinet Meeting of  Swindon Borough Council that very evening, and that they should go along and listen.   I also cautioned them against falling into the trap of asking questions during the ‘informal’, and therefore un-minuted, part of the meeting.  “Questions”, I told them sagely, “should be asked in the second (formal) part of the meeting if you want them to appear in the minutes”.  “Mind you”, I told my correspondents, “there’s no guarantee that your questions, (as they appear in the minutes),  won’t be re-written in a manner which flatters the cabinet and makes you out to be an unhelpful dickhead”.

Tony Hillier,  reporting on the Talkswindon Forum after the formal Cabinet Meeting,  said of Garry Perkins:  “I heard the chair say that a re-payment of the SBC loan was imminent ! and Des Morgans testimony, (also a Talkswindon member and well known writer of many quality letters to the Advertiser), agreed with Tony:

“Tonight’s Open Cabinet Meeting heard Coun Perkins state with absolute clarity that Digital City has new private investors and that the £400k of SBC loan will be repaid within weeks.

Sadly he also persisted in repeating the old chestnut that the reason the project stalled was because of the intense scrutiny it was put under.  I tried once again to explain the timeline, but to no avail.  It seems that Coun perkins is simply unwilling to accpet that perhaps the failure of Digital City to have had a viable sales and marketing plan for Highworth might just have contributed to its failure to achieve sales performance targets”

Remember that Hunt, as recently as only two days before, was using words like ‘being sought‘, ‘it would be a great opportunity’ and if’ – but the Deputy Leader of the Council – Cllr Garry  Perkins was now saying, (but only from within the privileged safety of the Civic Chambers), that new investors had been found and that these new investors would be repaying the  £400,00 loan back to Swindon Borough Council imminently.

By Friday the 21st of January the WiFi’asco,  if Perkins is to be believed, is poised to leap from the funeral hearse – from it’s current situation where it is without any significant numbers of customers,  money or market confidence, where it has been stalled and waiting to die for the last 10 months – to one where it will imminently be acquiring new investors and enough inward capital to both pay off a £400,000 debt to Swindon Borough Council and put enough money in to pump-prime the project with a fiscal stimulus.  (A ‘WiStimulus’ if you like.)

It’s almost too good to be true and, in if our previous experience of the WiFiasco is any indicator, it probably is too good to be true.

I’m sure that a genuine investor would want to understand the comapny they were considering buying into and especially so a company which is in the position Digital City (UK) Ltd is in.  DC effectively has so few customers that the income they generate each month is utterly insignificant when compared to the mountain of debt it owes to creditors.

The debt to SBC  is believed to be in the region of  £400,000 but I have no idea what may be owed, if anything, to other creditors of Digital City (UK) Ltd has.  The SBC loan is due to be repaid in full by December this year.   Currently, (according to Cllr Keith Williams speaking on BBC Wiltshire earlier this week), interest-only payments are, or have been regularly made each month.  I understand that these interest only payments have been made at the ‘commercial rate’, (according to SBC), of 3%  per month.  Let’s round that figure up or down slightly and call it £1,000 per month.

Now, and this is where I’d like to point out that the next part of this blog post is mostly speculative , I’m having trouble reconciling the current actions and behaviour of Councillor Perkins against his past ones and I’m also finding what he’s saying difficult to believe without any evidence being offered.   I’ve noticed that Councillor Perkins often makes statements from within the Council Chambers, (and therefore from behind the protection of ‘Privilege’), which have quickly been proved false.  It seems Perkins isn’t afraid of making wildly exaggerated claims in the local media, in fact he’s usually seems to be something of a media whore…. but not this time.  This time Perkins is staying schtum whenever he is outside the relative  safety of the chambers, which makes me even more suspicious that there’s something ‘iffy’ in the offing…

….and then, as if by magic,  Cllr Williams pops up on BBC Radio Wiltshire and, after energetically slandering Chris Watts, goes on to repeatedly emphasise the following point about the £400,000 loan made by Swindon Borough Council to Digital City (UK) Ltd:

“The loan hasn’t been defaulted on yet, and interest is being regularly paid”

I thought this was a most curious thing for Cllr Williams to mention once, let alone several times.  Especially since I don’t think anyone had actually asked a question which would naturally lead to that answer.  It was almost as if he was a little too keen to labour the point.

So, assuming that Digital City (UK) Ltd has been servicing the interest payments on the loan from the loan money itself, and assuming that large monthly payments for consulting services and/or salary have been flowing out of Digital City’s accounts and into those of Avidity Consulting Ltd, (another Company started by Mr Hunt), then I’m thinking that the original loan money must be almost exhausted.  Perhaps it has already run out….

… and if so, this naturally leads me to wonder whether Mr Hunt would, (or could),  reach into his own pocket to pay the £1,000 ‘ish per month in interest payments on theSBC loan.  Is it more likely that he would simply apply the acid-test of solvency to Digital City (UK) Ltd and, upon realising that it cannot liquidise, (in fact does not have),  enough assets to meet its liabilities,  start thinking seriously about winding the company up?

Is Digital City (UK) Ltd destined to join the list of 7 or 8 other companies wound up by Mr Hunt in the last few years or will Cllr Perkins promise that a ‘cheque of at least £400,000 is in the post’ be proved to be truthful?….

….and if it is, will ‘the deal’ be another back-street abortion or a genuinely good one?,  I tend towards expecting another abortion….but I’d be delighted to be proved wrong.  I’m sure it will be interesting either way.

Monday the 24th of January 2011: It has now been exactly a week since I said:

“Local media sources, (several of them), have told the Lamplighters network that they are running out of patience with Director of Digital City (UK) Ltd and Deputy Leader of Swindon Borough Council, Councillor Garry Perkins.”

This weeks questions are very simple.

1. Has all the loan money gone?

2. Is Digital City (UK) Ltd about to default on the loan?

3. Assuming the incoming ‘Private Investor’ is genuine – what have you promised them Garry?

A Discussion topic is now open on the Talkswindon.org Forum where readers are very welcome to follow or contribute to the ongoing conversation there

Posted on
Monday, January 24th, 2011
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One Comment to “Denials, Defaults & Defamation- Swindon WiFi’asco Down, But Not Quite Dead”

[...] members, pathologically incapable of accepting any blame for the potential loss of £400,000 of public money, have sought to blame the failure of the [...]

February 10th, 2011