Still unplanned

If I were someone who’d chosen, on the basis on minimal consultation, to stump-up almost £½M of local taxpayers’ money to the company intending to install wireless internet boroughwide across Swindon, I’d be feeling a little worried reading that company’s February update.

Things aren’t going according to plan. Just six weeks ago installation in Highworth was expected to be complete by mid-January. It’s now early February and work is still in progress.

[T]he installation in Highworth has not gone to plan. There are several reasons for this – topography, approvals and snow to name a few…. We have also had areas where there were no suitable lampposts and no public buildings to substitute. We have in the High Street spoken to retail businesses and begun to cover our black spots and hope to complete around the 15th.

Now I’m not aware of the approvals process for radio transmitters having changed in recent months. Nor have I seen reports of a mountain suddenly springing up in the middle of Highworth, nor of buildings and lampposts disappearing overnight. None of these could be regarded as unpredictable, and cold weather in winter is not a total surprise either.

Not only is the hardware side a bit awry, the marketing seems to have been off-target too.

Customer response in the main remains positive but we know we have frustrated many because we went live with the PR before we were ready, as a result are always playing catch up…. The following is our initial plan. In Highworth, from the end of February, we will carry out a leaflet drop, display window posters and place an advertisement in a community magazine. We will also be placing adverts for the free service (not yet designed) in as many public places as we will be allowed.

If they don’t know what the adverts will be nor where they will go, that’s more an initial guess than an ‘initial plan’.

To be fair, no start-up company will be anywhere near perfect: start-ups make mistakes… lots of them. And the openness with which the company is now talking about its progress is welcome. If this was all being done with private capital, whilst I might have a little fun at the company apparently being caught unawares by the presence of hills in the landscape, I wouldn’t be overly concerned. But this isn’t being done just with private capital.

There’s almost £½M of local taxpayers’ money invested in this. Taxpayers money invested in secret. Taxpayers money invested on the basis of a business case only a select few in the council have seen. A business for which the briefing to two councillors said marketing was key. If the business case was truly robust enough to warrant stumping up £450k of local taxpayers’ money, I wouldn’t expect things to be so far off plan as they are now.

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