Following a number of serious complaints about broadband provision in her constituency Helen secured a Westminster Hall Debate to raise concerns with BT services.
Helen spoke specifically about two recent startling cases. One business was left without broadband provision some 17 months after paying their £30,000 upfront fee. The second business is still not online despite paying £100,000 upfront fee.
That this House has considered BT broadband provision for local businesses.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Ryan. The Minister and I have sparred on many occasions about the state of rural broadband. I have been away from this brief for 18 months, but now I am returning, as a constituency MP, because things have not improved as we had all hoped. I want to bring some stories from my constituency to public attention, because I cannot see how, apart from by doing that, we will exert any real pressure on BT, which I think is becoming more and more complacent.
The first big problem in my constituency was faced by an auctioneer called Addisons, which was located in Barnard Castle. Addisons had been there for decades and increasingly found that auctions needed to be conducted over the internet. It would get better prices if it could conduct auctions over the net, but the connection offered by BT was not fast enough for it to be able to do that, so the firm closed, with the loss of dozens of jobs.
Last autumn, William Smith, a firm that has been working in Barnard Castle since 1832, got in touch. In October 2014, it ordered a short haul data service, at a cost of £30,000 up front, with a subsequent monthly fee of £16,000. Let me explain in more detail the situation of this family-run company in my constituency. It had a place in the middle of town and then it wanted to operate a larger warehouse on the outskirts of Barnard Castle. To do that, it needed a new data link between the two sites. As I said, the firm went to BT in October 2014. It said to BT, “We’re building a new warehouse”—the warehouse cost £2 million—“and we need this data link so that we can use it. Without the data link, we can’t use the new warehouse and our staff can’t work effectively.”
Nine months later, nothing had happened, so the firm got in touch with its Member of Parliament and complained about that, reasonably enough. I thought, “Well, I used to be the shadow Minister. I know all the right people in BT; I know the public affairs people. I’m sure we’ll sort this one out in a trice.” I could not have been more wrong. We got in touch with the public affairs department. My staff were in almost weekly contact. We got in touch with the chairman of BT, Sir Michael Rake. Again, we made absolutely no progress.
I was very concerned because at one point we were not even getting responses from BT, so I asked the Minister to get in touch. The Minister got in touch, and the upshot of that is that the firm now has one of its links established, but it needs more links. The situation is rather complicated. It needs more capacity on the link, so we are still not there completely. The first section was completed on 29 February, 17 months after the firm paid its £30,000 up-front fee. That is not acceptable, and everyone knows that. However, that is not the only ongoing problem in my constituency. There is also a problem in Whorlton.