To receive additional items that the Chair is of the opinion should be considered as a matter of urgency, in accordance with Section 100B (4) (b) of the Local Government Act 1972.
The Chair raised one item of
urgent business regarding the procurement of a Local Full Fibre
Network (LFFN) on behalf of the Association of South Essex Local
Authorities (ASELA). The Director of HR, OD and Transformation
introduced the report and stated that Thurrock was the lead Council
involved in this project, and had successfully submitted a bid to
the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for a
grant of £4.4million. She highlighted that this project came
at no cost to the Council, as the entire project was being funded
through the DCMS grant. The proposed procurement route represented
the most effective route cost wise and for delivery. The LFFN
supported council efficiencies by replacing some of the current
Wide Area Network (WAN), and increasing capacity. The Director of
HR, OD and Transformation added that this project supported the
Council’s wider digital aspirations through improved Wi-Fi
connectivity, and had been a cross-organisation
The Chair thanked officers for the report and sought clarification that the £4.4million project cost would be entirely funded by central government. He also asked if the £4.4million would be spent entirely within Thurrock, or if it would be split between all local authorities within ASELA. The Director of HR, OD and Transformation confirmed that the entire project cost was government funded, and would be divided across ASELA. The Chair then asked what benefits an LFFN would provide for residents, the Council and its partners. The Director of HR, OD and Transformation responded that the LFFN would provide the infrastructure for better future connectivity. The Corporate Director Finance, Governance and Property added that out of the seven local authorities that formed ASELA, the government would be funding a total of 133 LFFN sites, of which 78 were in Thurrock. He mentioned that the LFFN would help to support the public sector, and stated that 22 sites would be within care homes, 23 sites in community buildings, and 2 sites in fire and rescue buildings. He stated that an LFFN could provide cheaper broadband, increased Wi-Fi speeds, and increased connectivity.
The Chair asked why the report had been brought urgently, and sought clarification of the governance process. The Corporate Director Finance, Governance and Property replied that originally the report had been two-fold, including both the LFFN and WAN. He stated that because of purdah, the WAN aspect of the report had been delegated via an ED2 form, but this had not included the LFFN. He stated that lessons had been learnt and provided his apologies for the lateness of the report.
Councillor Duffin thanked the team for their hard work on the project, and felt it was good to see Thurrock receiving grants from central government. He queried that although the national average for fibre broadband coverage was 10%, Thurrock only had 6% coverage, and asked what was being done to improve this connectivity. He added that due to the ongoing pandemic, more people were working from home and required good Wi-Fi speeds and connectivity. Councillor Ralph added that some areas, particularly in East Tilbury, Stanford-le-Hope and Fobbing, had very poor Wi-Fi connection, and asked how long it would be before they saw improvements. The Corporate Director Finance, Governance and Property responded that the LFFN presented to the Committee was the first stage in the project, but one of ASELA’s main priorities was digital connectivity. He stated that he could bring a detailed report to the Committee later on in the year outlining what the Council could do, and was doing, to improve Wi-Fi for residents. Councillor Rice queried why Southend-on-Sea Council had not signed up to the LFFN project, and the Director of HR, OD and Transformation replied that it was because they already had full fibre coverage.
The Chair summarised the debate and asked that Cabinet be made aware of the Committee’s comments, including asking them to focus on how the LFFN could benefit Thurrock residents and the local community.
1. The Committee recommended that Cabinet give delegated authority for award of contract for the delivery of a Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) to MLL Networks Ltd, via the Suffolk Cloud Partnership agreement, to the Director of HR, OD & Transformation in consultation with the Leader of the Council. The total cost of this project is £4.436M for the rollout of Dark Fibre connectivity and an Irrevocable Right of Use (IRU) of that fibre for 15 years. There is no additional ongoing cost for use of the dark fibre for the 15-year period.