Digital project may be closed

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A failing £100 million initiative to bring ultra-fast broadband to 97 per cent of South Yorkshire could face closure, Government minister Michael Fallon told a House of Commons Committee.

The Business Innovation and Skills Minister was speaking in a debate on Government proposals to pay up to £45 million to wash its hand of a commitment to prop up the Digital Region network.

Mr Fallon launched a blistering attack on South Yorkshire councils and former development agency Yorkshire Forward for the failure of the initiative, describing it as “deeply flawed” and the contracts for the project as “very poor and badly negotiated.”

He told MPs: “By about this point it (Digital Region) was intended to have attracted 20 per cent of households in South Yorkshire, which would equate to 108,000 customers. It actually has 3,000 customers.

Following the winding up of Yorkshire Forward, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills inherited a 50 per cent stage in Digital Region, with the remainder owned by Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham councils.

Now that the Government has cut its ties, it will be up to the four councils to either complete a deal with a new operator willing to take on Digital Region or close the business down.

Digital Region has been negotiatiing to sell to French firm Bouygues Energies and Services.