EdVaizey has told MPs that take-up of the Super Connected Cities Programme has surged, despite opposition claims of it being short funds
Flagship plans to deliver ‘super connected cities’ have “taken off like a rocket”, a government minister has claimed after heavy criticism of the programme.
About 24,000 businesses are now benefiting from the £150 million Super Connected Cities Programme (SCCP), which offers vouchers to make broadband speeds six times faster for the recipients in 22 chosen cities, MPs were told by Ed Vaizey (picutred), the minister in charge of the programme.
Before the general election, Labour fiercely criticised the policy, alleging that ministers were “trying to trick the public”. It claimed that no extra money was being made available for the programme, despite a pledge to extend it, and that up to last September just £20 million of the budget had been spent, including the sums devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland.
In the Commons, Labour MP Helen Goodman called for funds to be shifted to broadband roll out, saying there was a “big underspend on the Super Connected Cities Programme”.
But Vaizey, the communications minister, replied: “The super connected cities vouchers scheme has now taken off like a rocket, with 24,000 businesses now benefiting. In fact, we are going to spend the money by the end of this year.”
The initiative has been promoted as government support to cover the cost of high construction charges or wireless aerials. It involves a pledge to deliver speeds of between 80-100Mbps to 1.7 million households and 200,000 premises by 2015 – suggesting the figure of 24,000 businesses is still falling well short.
Last year, BT and Virgin Media were reported to have protested against the fixed line element because it would help rival companies.
A second strand of the programme promises “wi-fi hot spots in public buildings such as libraries, museums and on selected public transport”.
Vaizey also gave a post-election update on broadband roll out, telling MPs that 97% of homes and businesses had access to 2Mbps, up from under 90% in 2010. “We hope that all homes will have it by the end of 2015,” he added.
He went on: “By the end of 2015, we should have 90% superfast broadband coverage in the UK, which compares well with almost every other country and puts us at the top of the tree of the big five in Europe.”