THE deadline for Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council to draw down funds from a Westminster scheme designed to ensure the UK has a full fibre network has been extended.
Writing to Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council’s economic development officer, Paul Kavanagh, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Digital Infrastructure, Matt Waman MP, confirmed access to funds from the scheme has been extended by three months.
Funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) programme was granted by HM Treasury on the condition the programme would end in March 2021.
However, in a letter to Mr Kavanagh, the Parliamentary Under Secretary acknowledges that supplier delays mean Council will not meet its original project timeline.
“We were made aware of a number of factors, including supplier delay in delivering against contractual targets,” says Mr Warman MP.
“Projects are behind and as a result, not all funding will be possible to draw on as per the profiles within your original project plan.
“As a result, and as part of supplementary discussions with the Treasury, aligned to UK Government’s ambitions of achieving full Gigabit coverage of the UK, we have been able to secure an extension to June 30, 2021.”
The letter also says it is now vital that Council displays “robust governance” to ensure the revised delivery plan is a success and that the funding is not lost.
“This is extremely positive news and confirms our commitment and support to your project,” writes Mr Warman MP.
“It is now, however, critical to ensure that through the exhaustive and laborious process carried out to secure this extension, that we avoid any scenario where funding could be lost.
“I am asking that you ensure robust governance and increased assurance is undertaken at a local level to make a success of the revised delivery plans, and prioritise DCMS funds.”
He also made it clear that this extension has nothing to do with the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“The new funding deadline excludes the implications of COVID-19,” he writes. “COVID-19 will be dealt with separately, and on a case by case basis.”
Under the new proposals, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough will draw down £2.7 million and through its supplier, Eir Ltd will provide Gigabit capable connectivity services to reach 71 public buildings in the borough.
It is projected that £2.2 million of this funding will be drawn down in the 2020/21 financial year, with a further £500,000 to be drawn down in the 2021/22 financial year.