Swindon WiFi: Councillors Washing Their Hands Of Drowning Joint Venture ?

Swindon WiFi or ‘Signal’,  (as it is also known),  is 8 months old….

…and until just a few weeks ago Swindon’s Conservative Councillors were telling anyone that would listen:

“We believe that Digital City are being realistic about target sales to households, business, public sector organizations and business visitors, their model is based on selling to 7 % 0f households and 1000 business packages in year one.”

Odd then, that after an almost continual barrage of exaggerated claims for its ‘innovative’, ‘exciting’ and ‘unique’ nature,  the reality of the WiFi’asco seems to be that the scheme has belly-flopped badly into a pool already saturated with internet providers and Swindons most vocal  supporters of the Council’s WiFi partnership with Digital City (UK) Ltd,  Leader of the council Rod Bluh and Deputy leader Garry Perkins,  now seem desperate to distance themselves from the drowning venture by simply passing the buck to the WiFi company itself.   Splitters.

This may work for Bluh because he’s a habitual arse coverer, but is somewhat problematic for Councillor Perkins because, apart from being the Deputy Leader of Swindon Borough Council, he is also the Borough Council’s Appointed Director of Digital City (UK) Ltd.

Perkins really ought not to be distancing himself from the WiFi’asco because the council promised us, the tax paying residents of the town, that it would be exercising a high degree of control in the boardroom of Digital City.   This is what local businessman Chris Watts was told earlier this year:

Mr Watts asked:

What powers do the Council have on the Digital City board? Does the Council have the powers to veto board room decisions?”

He was told:

“The Council has one Director representing its interests on the Digital City Board. The Board of Digital City total 3 Directors (including one Chair). The Council exercises a high degree of control over the period of the loan e.g: Delivery of agreed milestones , before releasing next phase of funding”

How curious then, that at full council last night Councillors Perkins and Bluh didn’t want to talk about WiFi at all.   When asked very simple questions concerning how many customers were now paying to use the WiFi scheme and whether tax payers money was ‘safe’ within the scheme,  Bluh and Perkins were less than loquacious in their responses:

“This is a commercial matter for Digital City and information about this is not in the Council ‘s control. I have forwarded your request to Digital City UK Ltd.”

“Information about Digital city UK’s commercial operations belongs to the company and not to the borough . I have passed your questions to the company for them to answer.”

“I have referred your question on the schedule to Digital City UK”

In fact, the only clear WiFi fact that did pop up during last nights meeting was the expected and humiliating public admission that altough Digital City (UK) Ltd has received a public-money loan of  between £400,000 and £450,000*, on what the council calls a ‘Commercial Loan Basis’, the company has not yet paid any of the capital back on the loan and based on what we were told by Digital City when it last answered public questions, it would appear that is unlikely to be able to repay it.

Councillor Bob Wright asked Deputy Leader of the Council/Digital City Director Cllr Garry Perkins:

“In view of the assurances given by the Administration when adjusting Digital City’s criteria to enable the second part of the Council’s loan to be released , can the Deputy Leader of the Council assure the public and councillors that this public money is safe and that the predicteduptake is now paying back the loan and that the rollout is on schedule?

Councillor Perkins responded:

“Yes, but the loan is not yet due for repayment. I have referred your question on the schedule to Digital City UK”

It’s been obvious for a long time that  Councillor Bluh, et al,  want the public to stop asking them politically embarrassing questions but  ‘Section 15’ questions from other Councillors are a bit harder to avoid answering, especially ones where Bluh & his cabinet cronies suspect the questioner may already know the correct answers to the questions.

A few weeks ago Digital City very quietly admitted that it had only 12 paying customers after 6 months of operation….which is not very impressive by any normal measure but was sufficiently impressive for Councillor Bluh to bend over backwards to release the final £300,000 of the taxpayer funded loan to the company.  My ‘issues’ with the secretive and undemocratic way Councillor Bluh originally arranged to lend £450,000 of taxpayers money to a newly started company are well documented on the Talkswindon Forum.  I won’t go over well-plowed ground again here, but I do urge readers to visit the Talkswindon WiFi Enquiry and explore the lengths to which our councillors will go to get their own way.

A Final thought from me:

Just about the only thing the Council correctly predicted about Bluh’s WiFi’asco was:

“Reputation – if the service is not sustained or does not deliver as expected, this will reflect on the Council.”

But there’s little point worrying about ‘reputation’ now.  Bluh’s arrogant incompetency and reckless spending habits ensured that  Swindon Borough Council easily made it into the ‘Rotten Boroughs’ archives of  Private Eye magazine some time back.  Well done chaps, you’re doing us and the town proud.


Posted on
Friday, July 16th, 2010
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