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Cross-party panel to review failed wi-fi project
SWINDON Council has established a cross-party review into the troubled firm Digital City UK, which failed to roll out wi-fi internet access across Swindon.
The council invested about £400,000 in the firm, which was headed by businessman Rikki Hunt, but the loan turned out to be repayable.
Now the scrutiny committee has established a team of two Conservative and two Labour members to look into why the much-hyped project failed after installing an estimated £200,000 worth of infrastructure in Highworth.
It is hoped the move will put to bed the issue as the firm’s accounts are submitted to Companies House and a new borough-wide 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) network, backed by the council, goes live under a commercial scheme led by UK Broadband.
The membership of the group has not yet been decided, but they will all be members of the scrutiny committee. The new group is expected to decide its terms of reference at its first meeting later this year.
Coun Peter Heaton-Jones (Con, St Andrews), the vice chairman of the scrutiny committee, said: “The whole scrutiny committee quite rightly supported the idea of a non-partisan working group to look into the Digital City issue.
“Now that the company’s accounts have been filed, it’s the right time to examine them and to ask whatever questions they might pose.
“The fact that the working group will have two Labour and two Conservative members, with no casting vote for the chair, means we can be sure it will be fair. The group will report back to the full scrutiny committee, so it’ll be an open and transparent process too.
“The scrutiny chairman has asked the working group for its report by the end of January, so hopefully then we can put this matter behind us and move on.”
Campaigner Des Morgan, who has followed the wi-fi issue from the beginning, said the review group needed full access to any evidence relating to Digital City UK, including reports by the then deputy chief executive, Celia Carrington, and professional services firm Pricewater-houseCoopers.
He said: “This committee needs to review what decisions were made and why they were made. It needs to look and say who made these decisions and why did they make these decisions.
“And it needs to look and say was there any issue in terms of were the officers just being led by the politicians or were the politicians completely overawed by officers.
“It doesn’t have to be a blame thing but it’s something that needs to be understood as to why people had concerns in the early part of the first quarter of 2010 and yet felt able to give Digital City £250,000 after already having given them £150,000 which they were concerned about.”