Ex-Swindon Council leader is slammed for town Wi-Fi flop
5:30am Friday 17th January 2014 in By Mike Benke, @Michael_Benke
A task group was set up to examine why £400,000 of public money was loaned to Wi-Fi firm Digital City which has not yet been paid back, and has presented its findings.
It highlights a whole host of problems with the process, from the lack of information given to councillors through to basic errors in rolling out the scheme.
However, Coun Bluh has defended himself saying that while he accepts the report he stands by the decisions made at the time using the information available.
The report says that while the process was legal, too much information was kept out of the public eye leading to an unclear process.
It said: “A decision-making process was used which was lawful but which prevented the regular checks and balances of the council from taking place.
“This led to a decision being taken that the Task Group believes was not in the best interest of the council.”
It goes on to say: “The then Leader of the Council selected the decision-making route on the grounds of commercial confidentiality and, at the time, prevented a wider critical appraisal of the project taking place.”
In 2010 the council looked to make Swindon the first town in the UK to have full Wi-Fi coverage and loaned the money to a company, Digital City UK, which was headed by Rikki Hunt.
Digital City was set up to provide coverage for Swindon and Highworth.
But only Highworth was covered, a decision also slammed in the report as there were not enough businesses in the village to make it profitable.
Coun Bluh said: “I accept the report but I will make the same point I did to the Task Group and that is I took advice at the time.
“I spoke with our legal adviser and had concerns about confidentiality so went down the route we did.
“It is easy in hindsight but at the time these decisions were made with the information available before the project got off the ground. If it was an error of judgement then I accept that.”
Further criticism was aimed at the amount of trust which was placed in Rikki Hunt, who lacked the technical expertise needed, and that not enough evidence was sought about potential investors in the scheme before £250,000 of the amount was given.
This money was due to grow the business but was instead used to pay off existing debts.
“When you are in partnership with someone then you need to trust them,” said Coun Bluh.
“Rikki was a partner of the council at the time so we trusted his judgement.”
The report is being seen by long-term critics of the scheme as justification for what they have always said was a flawed scheme.
Businessman Des Morgan said: “This report vindicates the criticism of the project by members of the public.
“It demonstrates how it was ill conceived from the start and very badly put into practice.”
Rikki Hunt was unavailable to comment yesterday.
The report is due to be put before the council’s scrutiny committee next Wednesday at a public meeting.
Comments are closed on this article.