CONTROVERSIAL director Rikki Hunt has ended his involvement with wi-fi in Swindon.

The head of Digital City has stepped down from his post early, just as the Swindon Council-backed company prepares to strike a deal with a private firm.

As reported in the Adver, Mr Hunt announced in early February he planned to stand down and transfer over his shareholding to the council.

That move came amid mounting criticism over the firm’s failure to deliver its promised wi-fi internet coverage to the town, or make repayments of money loaned to it by the council.

But on February 25 he told the Adver he would stay on in an advisory capacity, at least until the next board meeting.

Now in a surprise twist he has stepped aside sooner than expected, bringing a major chapter in the wi-fi saga to a close.

Garry Perkins, fellow director and the cabinet’s head of economics, said lessons had been learned.

Coun Perkins (Con, Shaw and Nine Elms) said: “He was very much involved in the setting up of Digital City, still believes in it, and would still be there to assist us if we need his help.

“We’re bringing in new partners.

“Rikki Hunt realised when we started moving in that direction he’d no longer be in that position.

“It was a matter of him tying it all up to allow it to have a new management structure set up, without his involvement.”

A new investor, whose identity has been closely guarded, is currently in talks over becoming involved in the project.

Asked about Mr Hunt’s stewardship of the company, which was set up with a six-figure council loan, Coun Perkins said: “He had a lot of problems to overcome which he didn’t appreciate you’d have when involved with the public sector.

“It’s very difficult for a partnership to go forward when you’re dealing with public money and scrutiny, which quite rightly, there should be. We’ve learned a lot from this, and I’m sure Rikki Hunt has as well.

“Private companies if they go into partnership with the public sector have to understand it’s a different way of going forward with business. There’ll be a need for closer scrutiny.

“It did scare away other investment.

“It was expected other investment would be attracted as the pilot was shown to work in Highworth but unfortunately, with all the scrutiny that’s gone on, it has slowed down the whole operation.”

Mr Hunt could not be contacted yesterday.

According to documents lodged with Companies House, the roster of UK firms, he stepped down on March 3.

To date, Digital City has borrowed £400,000 out of a potential £450,000 cash pot the council had made available to it.