Businessman refutes the findings of critical Swindon Wi-Fi project report
5:30am Tuesday 21st January 2014 in By Mike Benke, @Michael_Benke
RIKKI Hunt, the businessman at the centre of Swindon’s Wi-fi controversy, has hit out at a report criticising him and senior members of the council at the time.
A report, published last week by a specially appointed task-group, criticised the process by which Wi-fi was to be rolled out across Swindon and Highworth leading to a £400,000 loan being given out, which has yet to be repaid.
It says that while it was legal, the process meant key information was not given the proper level of scrutiny as it was withheld on commercial grounds. The task-group concluded this was not in the best interests of the council.
However, Mr Hunt said he believes the report was largely hearsay and conjecture with a limited factual basis.
Mr Hunt said: “Decisions were taken at the outset of this project over which I had no control and which had a key negative effect on the project, and as the task group makes much of my role in these decisions then I should respond. To suggest that I influenced who should know about the project is wrong.
“At no point did I ask for the project to be restricted. I merely asked that those who were involved be made aware that confidentiality up until launch was important.
“I would have preferred a full council decision for something as ground breaking.
“All of those involved, including four senior executives, had sight of all information for over 12 months before a decision was made, so had ample time for due diligence.”
Mr Hunt was the managing director of Digital City. the company responsible for introducing what would have been the landmark scheme. However, it was only ever introduced in Highworth as part of a pilot scheme, which was also slammed by the task-group.
Once again, Mr Hunt does not believe this is fair and accuses the council of being afraid to move forward with the project.
“The report, subject to approval, fails to point out that the business plan the task group talk of was based on a project covering the whole town. It was put on hold once the decision was made, by the council, to go for a pilot in Highworth instead,” he said.
“This was a ground-breaking project for the UK. The evidence that it could work came from a model being used in the USA.
“Of course there were operational issues affecting the pilot and if we had all worked together they would have been overcome.
“Unfortunately the desire to prove that the approval process of the project was wrong led to a culture of fear of failure’ within the Council. This in turn prevented solutions to operational issues being more widely discussed and resolved.”
The report is due to go before the council’s scrutiny committee on Wednesday.
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