In a heated and often bad tempered exchange at Westminster on Wednesday (November 22nd) Argyll & Bute MP Brendan O’Hara accused a UK minister and BDUK, the Whitehall department responsible for broadband roll-out of walking away and abandoning the community broadband company GigaPlus Argyll.
The row between the local MP and Matt Hancock, Minister of State for Digital at the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) broke out during a debate on rural broadband provision in Scotland.
GigaPlus Argyll folded when their contractors AB Internet went into administration during the construction phase of the community broadband scheme on Mull, leaving GigaPlus with a number of unconnected mast and as well as other broadband equipment.
The day the crisis first hit back in August, Mr. O’Hara, the SNP’s front bench spokesperson on DCMS, spoke with the board of GigaPlus Argyll with an offer to go to immediately to London to speak with BDUK.
It was a meeting that never took place. Neither did an urgent request to meet the UK government minister to discuss the problem facing GigaPlus Argyll.
In the debate at Westminster on Wednesday, Mr O’Hara asked the Minister;
“When GigaPlus Argyll, the community broadband company on Mull in my constituency, was left high and dry when its contractors went into administration, why were my emails and phone calls totally ignored? They were not even acknowledged by BDUK when I was trying to secure an urgent meeting to salvage something from the wreckage to try to save that project.
Why, when I made an appointment to see the Minister himself about the crisis in GigaPlus Argyll, did he not turn up, with not so much as an apology or an offer to reschedule?”(Hansard)
The Minister didn’t offer an explanation at to why BDUK had ignored the phone calls and emails from the local MP seeking an urgent meeting to discuss this crucial constituency issue. Nor did he say why or apologise for not turning up to the agreed meeting with Mr. O’Hara, preferring instead to try and shift the blame on to the Scottish Government.”
Speaking immediately after the debate, Mr. O’Hara
“It is completely unacceptable for a UK minister to try and deflect from his own bad manners and his own department’s incompetence by trying to implicate the Scottish government.”
“I thought the minister’s response was deeply disrespectful, not necessarily to me but to the people of Argyll & Bute and particularly the board of GigaPlus Argyll who have worked so hard for so long on this project and have done nothing to deserve being dismissed in such a high-handed and arrogant fashion by a UK government minister.”