Business & Professional Life: Editor’s Update

More business news and comment from Nicky Godding

Broadband blues.

Selected Cotswolds areas are enjoying fast broadband. Others aren’t, despite Fastershire, the partnership between Herefordshire and Gloucestershire County Councils and BT, visualising a ‘future proof world class broadband network’.

By the end of 2015, Fastershire says that 90% of Gloucestershire homes and businesses will have access to fibre broadband with everyone in the project area able to enjoy a minimum of 2Mbps. Its’ aim is access for all who need it to broadband speeds of 24Mbps by 2018.

Bad luck for the remaining 10%. In the first round of funding BT refused to confirm which communities wouldn’t get fibre, because we understand it would have risked loosing government funding to someone who could provide it.

Fastershire has now secured a further £10 million to try and sort the problem out. This time all commercial suppliers tendering have informed Fastershire where they intend to roll out their commercial programme, but there are no guarantees that all rural areas will get it.

The fault seems to be with the original £1 billion BDUK national rural project, described as ‘mismanaged’ by the government’s spending watchdog, The Public Accounts Committee. Committee Chair, Margaret Hodge said: “The Government has failed to deliver meaningful competition in the procurement of its £1.2 billion rural broadband programme, leaving BT effectively in a monopoly position.”

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Why does the final 10% matter you might ask if you’re one of the lucky 90% surfing the internet with wild abandon. Rural residents have got nice views – what more do they want? But countryside dwellers put up with many other utility restrictions such as no gas, high costs of heating oil, no mains sewage or street lighting, and reconnection after an electricity power outage hours later than urbanites: Fastershire does point out that some rural locations such as Ampney Crucis, Meysey Hampton and Southrop have been connected. Even greedy Kemble has it, along with absolutely everything else: a main line station, shop, school, even an airport.

Jack Holland is battling to bring broadband to the village of Compton Abdale. “Our village has a typical Cotswold mix of young people and silver surfers. Our agricultural community are dependent on broadband and at least a quarter of the households to run their businesses. We are in one of numerous Cotswold mobile blackspots so don’t have a mobile network to fall back on. We receive patchy broadband service and some users have no connectivity for much of the day.”

The internet is now almost essential to daily life, especially with the government (the same people that negotiated the flawed contract with BT), having put many statutory services online, including its Rural Payments Agency farm payments scheme. A cynic might say this is a great wheeze to save public money: Put your application scheme online, but don’t give farmers access to it and hey presto, public money is saved.

Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours….

The relationship between a university and its hometown can be a challenge, and The Royal Agricultural University’s relationship with Cirencester is no exception. Disgruntled young locals have been heard to complain that ‘ag students are rich kids.’ The ‘rich kid’ view was never true for the majority of students, but the college kept its distance, possibly to avoid controversy.

Now, the 170-year old college, which achieved university status in 2013, is finally getting to know its neighbour better. It recently invited in around 20 local business and community representatives to examine how it could achieve this ambition. Those attending the meeting included the town’s incredibly young mayor, 22-year old councillor Joe Harris, who probably understood the situation between student and young locals better than most around the table.

There are already some well established links: the university hosts many local events and has moved its student degree ceremony to Cirencester’s parish church in the centre of town. The university wants to grow, indeed probably has to grow to thrive in the increasingly competitive sector of higher education, aiming to boost student numbers from the current 1200 to 2000 by 2020. And things are looking good. The RAU has seen enrolments rise by a staggering 50% in the past five years. A bigger university with a stronger relationship with its host town can only help the town’s businesses and support the wider economy.

As we went to press the university announced that it had secured nearly £3 million funding to support agri-tech business, start-ups and promote innovation.

Name tag

We ran a short article in our January issue on the marketing manager at Stewart Golf being called Nick Caddy. We’ve since heard from Ecclesiastical Insurance that the man in charge of its church operations is called Michael Angell. Can any Cotswold business beat that? We look forward to hearing from you.

Cotswold Life EMI Awards

Don’t forget to read all about our brand new Cotswold Life Engineering, Manufacturing and Innovation awards on page 42, and most importantly if your business innovates, manufactures or engineers, enter!