Sunday, 17 August 2014

Survey results: Why is Penzance town centre coming last on superfast broadband?

Below is the results of my survey on superfast broadband in Penzance town center. You can see my earlier posts on the subject here and in the Cornishman here. I provide a quick overlook at the results of the survey and some information from them. It is abundantly clear that organisations in the town centre feel a great deal of disappointment with the speed of superfast roll out. Again and again frustration is felt by businesses who have enquired of BT and Superfast Cornwall when Superfast broadband i.e. fibre to the premises (FTTP) will be available, with various deadlines given that have all come and gone. It was widely anticipated that FTTP would have been available a couple of years ago, nearer the start of the project in 2010 then the end of the project 2015. Despite the fact that Penzance's streets have been dug up and fibre cabling installed it is not yet available and the town centre is part of the 15% of the area not yet elgible for FTTP. Needless to say various organisations feel so frustrated and bemused that they can see where the trenches were dug yards from their premises yet that few yards bears no relation to how close getting FTTP is.

In terms of the survey I successfully had 13 organisations in Penzance town centre and 1 in Newlyn respond to the survey. I have been in contact with others, notably Penzance Chamber of Commerce and a few other businesses who have expressed the same kinds of frustrations as the respondents, but were either too busy or too sick of thinking about the whole thing to respond. I would have liked more organisations, but I guess many are busy and the big retail chains, restaurants, bakers and takeaways I did not get into contact with. Perhaps many that didn't respond saw little benefit to superfast and are primarily based in the good old folks through the door shopping. Or perhaps personally speaking to every business rather than emailing/ facebook messaging would have been more successful.

All of the respondents used the internet to generate business.

On a scale of 1 to 10, (1 meaning the internet was not important and 10 very important) answers were:

  • 1 0%
  • 2 0%
  • 3 0%
  • 4 7%
  • 5 7%
  • 6 0%
  • 7 0%
  • 8 21%
  • 9 7%
  • 10 57%

Would a fast connection improve your business?

  • Yes 86%
  • No 7%
  • Don't know 7%
Do you have access to Superfast Broadband?
  • Yes 0%
  • No 100%
  • Don't know 0%
Would you upgrade to superfast is available?
  • Yes 79%
  • No 7%
  • Don't know 14%
Without superfast in the town centre, would you consider relocating? 
  • Yes 7%
  • No 71%
  • Don't know 21%
Below some of the comments forwarded: 
"Absolutely bonkers that the town centre has not got superfast broadband when places like Newlyn where I live have had it for a while now. Should be other way round! Would certainly help our business. Internet trading is improving year on year."

"Never quite understood why the centre of town, a few yards from exchange last to get it ?"
"Our company has created a new service that should be going live within the next six months. It is crucial for the service that we have FTTP into our office. The critical part is the upload speed that fibre provides since this service will be sending data to the client side. If we do not have fibre by the time we are ready to go live, sadly we will have no other option but to relocate our office, leaving yet another commercial space unoccupied in the town centre. We have found the whole thing very frustrating because despite regular enquires about when we will be getting FTTP (beginning over one year ago), we have never been given any answer more detailed than "it's not available at the moment". It makes it nearly impossible for companies to plan for the future if BT will not give a reason for why we are not able to receive FTTP yet, or give us a rough idea of when it might be implemented. Thank you for your email and involvement with this issue."

"It is astonishing that the facility is not available in the town centre. CC funded BT to the tune of £100m and we are NOT getting the service we deserve!!"

"It would be interesting to get a map to show the areas that are included in the 5% who will never get access - that way we will know once and for all."

"Without reliable Internet, my business cannot exist. I believe that my revenue would increase with FTTP as i could expand on the remote support services that we currently offer meaning less time out of the office. As the situation is now, I cannot offer any further services as bandwidth and reliability are so limited."

"Yes – however the plan made little sense – why install in domestic settings before business settings – other than to benefit the installers financially?"

"Not yet (available)– Given various estimates, (would you consider relocating?) Potentially - especially the ecommerce side of our business."

"I would be able to do a lot of work (accounts, updating the website etc) from home if superfast had reached there. Instead of helping rural communities, the work has stopped short (2 miles) of achieving its goal. You are right to try to improve the town centre but don't stop there! Our customers would have more money if they too could work effectively from home but many are forced to take lower paid and often seasonal work because the internet is 0.2mb !!!"

"good for business in general? it's been too patchy to be truly successful. But all the crowing over the installation of it was done too early, so people don't realise there's still so much to be done. good for Penzance? Perhaps, for those who have it. good for your business? As one of the ones left out, then no."

The statistics and the comments speak for themselves. Superfast Broadband is good for business, when the scheme was announced back in 2010. It was widely boasted that Cornwall would have the fastest broadband in the world, four years on this has not proved to be true. Quite why Penzance town centre is part of the increasingly small part of Cornwall not hooked up to superfast is not clear. When FTTP will be available also is not clear and may well be at the very end of the project. We need investment in the town, businesses trade in a competitive environment and lagging behind is a foolish option. Why is Penzance town centre coming last?

I have forwarded the results of this survey to senior members of LEP Cornwall, Cornwall Council and BT in an effort to see some progress. Any answers I receive I will publish on this blog. 

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Superfast Broadband in Penzance town centre

Just a quick post, I'm still away visiting in laws, don't fret normal wordy and lengthy posts will return soon!

The big news is of course that the story has been run by the Cornishman. With some good arguments (see that here) hopefully the powers that be I.e. BT, Superfast Cornwall and Cornwall Council will start to take note and we might see the much trumpeted next gen technology in Penzance town centre some time soon. 

A couple of things to point out, I've had a number of replies from town centre organisations via email, Facebook message and on the Google docs form. These need to be collated when I get back and I'm hoping to get some more responses to gain a better understanding of how the Internet (and crucially it's speed) plays a part in the town's commerce.

But there are key themes,  notably a sense of frustration with BT/ Superfast Cornwall about the roll out of fibre to the premises and the ever delayed dates of when superfast broadband will be available. The importance of fast, reliable internet on existing business. How superfast broadband could increase efficency, allow some companies to expand and many to grow. There are a number of shops, as you would expect, not reliant on the internet but see the potential as a good thing for Penzance. 

Stay tuned for more on this soon.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

A progressive case for a Cornish Assembly

I'm on holiday at the moment in Aberystwyth, but here's an article I wrote a while back for Country Standard which features in their latest magazine. I was trying to present an alternate argument for devolution to Cornwall, let me know what you think?

Just firstly to introduce myself I am Rob Simmons a member of Mebyon Kernow- the Party for Cornwall a town councillor in Penzance and the party's general election candidate for the St Ives constituency next May. Like many people in MK I see myself as a progressive and I am proud that one of my first initiatives on the town council was to persuade the council to introduce the living wage for employees. But of course I am as well as a de-centralist. Many of the things I would like to change in Cornwall are to do with social policy as much as they are to do with constitutional change, below is my argument that a Cornish Assembly would be progressive and ought to be supported by people who want fundamental change where ever and whomever they might be. 

We live in interesting times in politics whatever your views on the subjects. The rise of the Green party, the NHA and indeed UKIP in the polls and of course the anti cuts movement, the dispute between the Trade Unions and the Labour party, more powers for the Welsh assembly, localism and the Scottish referendum. Politics is in a period of great flux, certainties that have held for decades and centuries are no longer holding. Things are changing and there are moves in Cornwall to make a great change to the landscape of British politics; devolution to a Cornish Assembly. 

But why should progressives care? indeed why should anyone without a heart full of Cornish pride even bat an eye lid at this idea? I think firstly everyone concedes that politics in the UK is vastly over centralised, nearly every facet of local government is dominated by the austerity agenda of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Sure there are choices to be made in every local authority but these are within the constraints of Westminster's agenda. Every political party concedes that centralisation is a fundamental problem, Labour planned democratic regional assemblies these fell by the way side. The coalition talks a great deal of localism but with the last gasps of that government (thankfully) coming to an end, it seems that localism will go the same way as New Labour plans and become only of interest to historians. Whilst the Labour government and the Tory/Lib Dem one have ummed and erred about how plans will actually pan out. Cornwall has patiently been sitting at the back of the class with our hands firmly up but government like a teacher with failing eye sight hasn't yet caught the master's attention. 

Centralisation is not just a question of constitutional or governmental matters. It is also very evident in economics although the way regional statistics across wide ranging areas doesn't help our understanding. It's only from these kind of catch all analysis that we can make the assumption that the south is rich and the north is poor. The finer detail is that wealth emanates from the capital, slowly leaching out to the Home Counties and reducing as we travel further north and west and in Cornwall's case south west. 306 miles way from Penzance lies London the richest city in Europe and one of the richest in the whole world, yet here Cornwall is one of the poorest places in the whole EU and has recently slipped behind everywhere in the UK to be the poorest region in Britain. The ward I represent is one of the most deprived in Cornwall, there are long terms problems with unemployment, health, low wages and housing. I know that not everything in London is rosy, that among the 72 billionaires there is also real hardship. That economic productivity and the creation of wealth does not necessarily mean a rise in living standards across the board. But this is a separate subject and it is very clear that the London model or rampant neo-liberalism is not one that I would like to see replicated here. It nevertheless holds thought that increasing productivity is a way of making an area better off. For this to happen I would argue Cornwall needs devolution. 

Recently Mebyon Kernow launched a Campaign for a Cornish Assembly with various roadshows in Cornish towns, an internet campaign and a consultation document on our plans for devolution. This document titled: "Towards a National Assembly for Cornwall" is available on the MK website ( Our plans are for a fundamental redrawing of governance in Cornwall with both powers devolved from central government to the assembly and powers passed down within Cornwall. For the new assembly to take responsibility for areas like Agriculture, Fishing and Food Production, Health, Energy Policy, Housing and Social Services. Take the various quangos and trusts that run all manner of services back under public control. These ideas are out for consultation which ends soon and we welcome comments from members of the public and organisations on them. Fundamentally what we want is freedom from Westminster to make our own decisions, to find the solutions that our unique to our situation. To see if we can make a better go of thinks and to try to pick up the economy of Cornwall. Right wingers will often say that we are to poor for devolution, but we think that we are to poor for the status quo, things are not right at the moment and doing nothing will not change that. 

I'd love to make the kinds of arguments that are being made at the moment in Scotland that Independence would bring a more progressive government. But not only are we not going for separation from the UK our promises for the changes it might bring are also more modest. I'd love to write here that a Cornish Assembly would see Cornwall's workers earning a living wage, that services like the NHS would be run for the good of front-line services and accountable to the people not shareholders but those situations might not happen. It's no good promising these things. But there are signs that governance in Cornwall might be more progressive with devolution. Despite the fact Cornwall's MPs are split evenly between the coalition partners and that has been the case in the past. (Ignoring the very real possibility of a Lib Dem wipe out next year for a moment). The lower you get down local government the more progressives there are and the more signs that parties like Mebyon Kernow, the Greens and Labour are an active part of politics. Cornwall Council even itself outed the last Conservative leader because he tried to force through a massive privatisation scheme. Since last years elections, despite there only being 4 MK, 8 Labour and 1 Green members on Cornwall Council and they are dwarfed by the 123 others dominated mainly by the 29 Conservatives and 37 Liberal Democrats. There are also 36 independents, between this hotchpotch and despite the overbearing austerity they are currently investigating ways of  all of the authorities workforce being paid the living wage. A progressive Cornish assembly is by no means a dead cert but please don't write off Cornwall as fundamentally regressive based on party rosettes. 

So I started this with a question why should progressives care? I think my argument is this, Cornwall needs change, the economy is far from thriving under centralised rule. We need to do things differently, the wealth created in the financial sectors of the city, like so much else, doesn't trickle down here. My appeal to progressives is not just because I am one, it is because I believe progressives are the people with vision, that is what unites us most. The desire to build a better society, to legislate for fairness the willingness to not go along with the powers that be, unquestioningly. To dare to dream and to not fear change. I call on each and everyone of you to consider what I have written, consider the changes we propose, look at our ideas and if you agree please sign the petition.

My party's website is here
My own blog here