Sheffield & South Yorkshire

South Yorkshire Councils investigate Digital Region scheme

An investigation has started into why there has been such little interest into a £90m project to bring super-fast broadband to South Yorkshire.

The Digital Region project, launched in 2010, was intended to serve businesses, homes, schools and council offices.

It was financed by four councils in the county, along with other groups.

Rotherham Council has now started an inquiry on behalf of the authorities. Officials at Digital Region said the infrastructure was now in place.

However, they said they were unable to say how many people had so far signed up to the scheme because of commercial sensitivity.

Digital Region was funded by the European Regional Development Fund, the regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward and the four South Yorkshire councils, Sheffield City Council, Barnsley Council, Rotherham Council and Doncaster Council.

In September a scrutiny panel on Barnsley Council raised concerns over the project, saying the roll-out had been taking longer than anticipated and more was needed to achieve sales.

'Pressures and issues'

Barnsley Council leader Steve Houghton said the project had not "been as effective as we hoped".

Mr Houghton said the investigation was now being carried out to "see what the pressures and issues are and to see if we can make sure we deliver the outcomes we are looking for".

He said a report was expected in six to eight weeks.

A spokesperson for the four councils said they were continuing to support the project.

However, they said they wanted to "minimise any risk to the shareholders, including the four authorities".

Mr Houghton said the councils had joined in the project because in the past the area had been behind in technology and wanted to change that.

Maureen Donnelly, chair of Digital Region, said the first phase of the network had been "more or less completed", which meant about 80% of homes and businesses across South Yorkshire already had faster broadband.

She added: "Every year since Digital Region was set up, we review our business plan and our forecast.

"Every year as part of that we look at our plans for the following year and there is always an option to stop or not. That is a decision we ask all of our shareholders to look at, it is always one of the options among many."

Ms Donnelly said that now the infrastructure was in place, Digital Region would now focus its attention on marketing to drum up support.

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