Broadband News

West Oxfordshire council to repeat procurement process

There was a period of hope for residents and businesses in the West Oxfordshire District Council (WODC) area that many of those missed out from the commercial and existing BDUK roll-outs would benefit from universal coverage delivered by a mixture of Fibre to the Premises and fixed wireless broadband via Cotswold Broadband, alas it seems after a couple of false starts the project has closed down and the council is back to finding another solution.

Cotswold Broadband has updated their website to add a simple note about 'withdrawing from the project' and the local press has some comments from councillors indicating that while this project has failed, procurement will be run again to see if another option exists.

"It is very disappointing that Cotswolds Broadband’s project failed after so much hard work. The delay for residents is really frustrating.

Taking on the procurement process ourselves demonstrates that we are absolutely committed to securing superfast broadband access for everyone in the district as soon as possible."

Councillor Colin Dingwall, cabinet member for broadband at WODC talking to Oxford Mail

Gigaclear last week issued a comment featured on ISPReview that their involvement in the project was on hold, and as Gigaclear had lined up £3.2m of funding matching the £1.6m loan from WODC and a £1.6m government grant this was not small amounts of money. The aim had been to ensure superfast broadband for some 6,000 premises and pictures of the bases for the first fibre cabinets had been posted back in 2016 by Cotswold Broadband.

Comments

The district council ran the previous procurement so I fail to see how "taking it on themselves" this time demonstrates any special commitment, it's what they need to do to address the failed delivery. No doubt there are a lot of red faces given the district opted out of the county programme, which appears to be progressing to plan.

I note that the press release confirms the involvement of ITS as the supplier to Cotswold Broadband, although it doesn't mention Gigaclear as its backer.

  • New_Londoner
  • 11 months ago

CBB was acquired by Gigaclear, but was still retained as an entity for this project. ITS technology was the network supplier...

I would hazard a guess that the issue with ITS technology and CBB mutually agreeing a withdrawl will result in the new supplier being Gigaclear without ITS technology.

  • themanstan
  • 11 months ago

If Gigaclear wants to end up as the sole supplier to West Oxfordshire, why couldn't they have achieved the same thing as sole supplier to their wholly-owned subsidiary (Cotswold BB) who were already sole supplier to WO. Without cancelling the project.

It looks like there's more to this story that Gigaclear could be saying, but choose not to (Gigamuddy?). They've even hidden all the old content of the CotswoldBB website ... though the wayback machine can still tell you what it used to say.

  • WWWombat
  • 11 months ago

Because the contract predates CBB being acquired by Gigaclear. So i doubt there would be any contractual clauses would allow such a change of supplier in a public funded project. Gigaclear was an investment partner.

  • themanstan
  • 11 months ago

I wonder what the contract says about the supplier pulling out early. There surely must be some financial penalty involved unless there were options built in. It does, after all, put the West Oxfordshire in an awkward position. I also have an interest in that I'm a West Oxfordshire council tax payer (although not on this service as I'm on an FTTC cabinet).

  • TheEulerID
  • 11 months ago

Financial penalties normally require there to be a financial loss and as no public funds have been spent, this limits any penalties that can be claimed.

  • themanstan
  • 11 months ago

Would CBB's contract with WODC have clauses that confines CBB's choice of subcontractor to ITS?

You would expect it to be straightforward for CBB to agree to part company with ITS as subcontractor, and take on Gigaclear as subcontractor. And you'd expect that to be an easy choice for CBB with Gigaclear as the owner.

And even if the change needed approval from WODC, you would expect that to be forthcoming. Why would WODC make life harder?

Ergo, Gigaclear have chosen to walk away from this contract. They just don't want their name to be associated with that choice.

  • WWWombat
  • 11 months ago

@themanstan

Contract law generally states that if a contract is broken the other party is entitles to compensation as if the contract was carried through. If a contract is stopped part through and it costs more to get another supplier to complete the job the buyer is entitled to compensation.
Of course there may well be conditions written into the contract for early termination. However, its common to incur some costs.

  • TheEulerID
  • 11 months ago

@themanstan

The general principles for breach of contract are in the link. Of course, it is normal for complex contracts to have explicit termination terms, but they are rarely cost free. In any event, the council will have incurred costs. It may be the contract was never signed. It would be nice to know.

"The general rule is that damages are meant to place the claimant in the same position as if the contract had been performed."

http://uk.practicallaw.com/7-107-6335

  • TheEulerID
  • 11 months ago

I suspect that once public funds are spent then penalties come online and lack of progress means timelines cannot be met. So given the supplier ITS technology hasn´t been able to deliver why would Gigaclear step in and take on financial penalties for late network supply, when the least risky option is to walk away and start again?

  • themanstan
  • 11 months ago

@theEulerID

no doubt, but would WODC look to penalise CBB(Gigaclear) if it was ITS Technology (the network supplier) that had failed to deliver?

Gigaclear as a network supplier has been successfully delivering FTTP networks in several BDUK projects.

Who do you think WODC will want in on tendering on the next process?

  • themanstan
  • 11 months ago

Perhaps things are simpler than mere contract problems. Simplicity explained by capitalism.

Perhaps the issue comes down to CotswoldBB being a CIC with no real ability to make a profit. Perhaps a lack of money-making potential for running the project (vs being the installation subcontractor) isn't good enough for GC.

Interesting to note that one of the ex-founders of CBB was asking one of Gigaclear's directors about CBB progress, noting things had gone quiet. That was on facebook, in response to GC's win in CDS. No answer.

  • WWWombat
  • 11 months ago

There's more than a little bit of arse-covering going on here.

  • WWWombat
  • 11 months ago

@themanstan
Why wouldn't WODC pursue CBB if it has failed to deliver on a contract? Since when has a supplier blaming one of its contractors been a valid defence? I doubt council tax payers will be as charitable towards CBB / Gigaclear.

Contd.
!

  • New_Londoner
  • 11 months ago

I suspect the real reason is that the council is embarrassed that its decision not to continue as part of the county programme has resulted in the current fiasco in the district. This is compounded by current moves to consolidate the district and county councils into a single unitary authority - not the best time for officers and councillors to fail to deliver.

  • New_Londoner
  • 11 months ago

It seems rather than follow the usual contracted model, it was a co-investment one... which would suggest shared responsibilities and accountabilities between CBB and WODC .

http://www.thinkbroadband.com/news/6457-west-oxfordshire-district-council-plumps-100-coverage-via-cotswold-broadband.html

  • themanstan
  • 11 months ago

@themanstan
That would make sense. If so, it would make it the second broadband contract of note to fail, with a common factor being local authorities partnering with untested parties - the other being the infamous South Yorkshire Digital Region.

  • New_Londoner
  • 11 months ago

@New_Londoner
Which is what the PQQ stage is supposed to help alleviate. Obviously a "Catch-22" for a completely new entrant, but for existing businesses with a track record it should help reduce (but not eliminate) this sort of risk

  • Gadget
  • 11 months ago

Wouldn't Gigaclear pass the PQQ stage?

Perhaps the co-investment model was "a bridge too far" in this case.

In other BDUK wins, we see that Gigaclear are willing to put in around £1k per property, but still need a lot more - as a subsidy - from the LA.

Perhaps they can't make the numbers work with the money supplied as extra loans, rather than subsidy.

  • WWWombat
  • 11 months ago

Indeed this is a co-investment model with risk sharing which is interesting. The history of local authorities investing money directly rather than letting a commercial company take the risk is not promising. I suppose we don't have that many examples. South Yorks stands out of course. We also have the rather unusual Aylesbury Vale Broadband example as well. I assume that's doing OK, but it's been quiet recently. The last news announcement on their website was on June 6th 2016.

  • TheEulerID
  • 11 months ago

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