THE COMPANY tasked with bringing faster broadband to Somerset is being allowed more time to complete the work – despite the “unacceptable” delays which have marked its tenure to date.

Gigaclear was awarded five of the six lots within phase two of the Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) programme, which is designed to bring superfast broadband to areas deemed non-viable by commercial providers.

Somerset County Council has criticised the ongoing delays and has confirmed the company remains on notice of default on its contract.

But it has also argued that allowing the company time to put forward plans to address its shortfall in performance was “judged to outweigh dis-benefits” of simply ending the contract.

Ryszard Rusinek, the council’s performance officer for planning and performance, identified it as an “area of concern” in a report which came before the council’s cabinet in Taunton on Monday morning (February 11).

He said: “[There are] concerns about the delivery and roll-out time-scales of the lots in the phase two programme awarded to Gigaclear.

“The CDS partnership is in dialogue with the company’s new owners, Infracapital, about their future proposals, and a CDS board meeting will consider the partnership’s options and response to Infracapital about this.”

In a separate report, the council accepted the “collapse of Carillion impacted the mobilisation” of Gigaclear once the contracts for phase two had been awarded.

A remedial plan was agreed in March 2018, which would have seen “slippage” within the scheme corrected by June 2020 – but Gigaclear “has not achieved the milestones” set within the remedial plan and “has confirmed that it will not be able to make the target dates”.

By contract, the lot allocated to Airband – which covers northern and western Devon – “has commenced build and is proceeding largely on track”.

The council held discussions with Gigaclear and its financial backers on January 24, and

Councillor David Hall, cabinet member for economic development, planning and community infrastructure, said the CDS programme to date had provided 300,000 homes and businesses with superfast broadband, with another 38,000 benefiting from improved speeds.

He added that, when commercial improvements had been taken into account, 950,000 homes and businesses across the two counties now had access to superfast broadband out of a total of 1,083,200 premises.

This represents more than 87 per cent of premises – below the 90 per cent target set for phase one of the CDS roll-out.

Mr Hall added: “Gigaclear is currently building full-fibre networks to provide 6,000 homes and business in Devon and Somerset with ultrafast broadband and these are due to go live in the summer. It’s also continuing its commercial build for 6,000 premises.

“But the delays in the other aspects of Gigaclear’s programme are completely unacceptable. CDS and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport continue to seek assurances, along with fully costed and acceptable remedial plans – we are awaiting further information from the company.

“Gigaclear remains on notice of default and, pending a satisfactory outcome, is continuing to build the network in the CDS area at risk, providing substantial investment of its own.

“At this stage, the potential benefits of allowing the company further time to complete its analysis are judged to outweigh dis-benefits of bringing the contracts to an end.

“CDS is, however, investigating all possible options for the future roll-out of full-fibre broadband while this interim period with Gigaclear continues.

“The government is also exploring options to extend the funding deadline for all the local broadband programmes facing delay, including CDS. CDS is working closely with the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership to also agree any necessary funding extensions.”