THE events and revelations at the recent Scrutiny Committee meeting were marked by a number of important statements.

The first was the failure of Digital City UK to have achieved its sales revenue targets and network coverage as set out in the business plan agreed between the company and the council. These targets were considered by officers and cabinet members to be realistic and achievable, it is a matter of concern that they have proven to be unattainable by such a wide margin.

I understand that the CEO of Digital city informed the committee that it was his intent to ‘gift’ his shareholding in the company to the council. This would result in the council becoming a majority shareholder of Digital City and would mean a private sector company being effectively nationalised by Swindon Borough Council. This deeply concerns me as it is not the role of the council to be a key player in a private market, which the Wifi market most certainly is.

It was also clear from comments made by the Digital City CEO at the meeting that there are insufficient funds available to Digital City UK Ltd to meet even its most basic payment of interest on the loan of £400k provided by the council. This situation is a matter of regret especially as the relationship was supposedly formed on the basis of a mutually beneficial commercial loan. Mr Hunt made it quite clear that the value of such a relationship was considerably offset by the real world he occupies when he suggests that not paying the debt he owed to the council was ‘just business’.

The Labour Group supports the efforts of the council leader to develop a rescue plan which should at least see the council receive back its original loan of £400k plus any unpaid interest. The Labour Group also calls on the administration to prevent a newly-invested Digital City from undertaking the following, unless payments are made to the council for these at market rate:

• Mounting transmitters on Swindon’s lampposts and other publicly owned structures.

• Making an unmetered connection to the council’s electricity supply.

• Connect up to Swindon Borough Council’s internet connection.

If all these actions are undertaken by a newly-invested Digital City Ltd without that company paying the market rate, Swindon council taxpayers money would be at risk as the council would be vulnerable to legal challenge under State Aid guidelines.

COUN DERIQUE MONTAUT Leader of the Labour Group