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E-minister urged to intervene in Yorkshire broadband spat

Bitter dispute goes public

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E-minister Stephen Timms has been asked to intervene in a bitter dispute that threatens to undermine work to roll-out broadband in the Yorkshire and Humber region.

The clash has already claimed the jobs of two senior officials and severely dented ambitious plans to roll-out a new high-speed broadband network in the area.

At the moment, there appears to be little indication that the row between Regional Development Agency (RDA) Yorkshire Forward, and Yorkshire and Humber Regional Aggregation Body (YH RAB) shows any sign of going away.

YH RAB is one of nine RABs set up by the Government to aggregate public sector demand for broadband. By pooling together demand for broadband from public sector bodies such as schools, GP surgeries, hospitals, it was hoped that this would provide sufficient demand for operators to roll-out broadband in areas currently underserved by high-speed Net access.

But on 4 May, YH RAB chief exec David Wright had his temporary contract terminated after just six months in the job. Yorkshire Forward insists he "wasn't sacked". Instead, the DTI and Yorkshire Forward decided not to renew his contract.

Wright claims he was dismissed unfairly and alleges that Yorkshire Forward's actions were part of a wider plan to undermine the work of YH RAB.

Now, Wright has written to Stephen Timms calling for his "rapid intervention" on "something of national and regional importance".

Mr Wright told the Minister: "Yorkshire Forward has been against the creation and operation of a separate RAB body from the outset. This is about power and conflicts of interest."

He cites a letter sent to Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt in February, where Yorkshire Forward's chairman, Terry Hodgkinson, raises concerns about the need for YH RAB.

In the letter, Hodgkinson argues that the creation of the RAB merely highlights the "problems of too many initiatives hampering delivery and confusing customers". Hodgkinson also questioned Government policy by arguing that the "need for aggregation has not been made".

Stuart Moore, the former Finance Director of YH RAB and an ex-senior civil servant who resigned the day after Wright's contract was terminated, has also written to the Minister to air his own concerns.

He wants an "urgent" enquiry into the dealings of Yorkshire Forward and YH RAB and wants Wright re-instated as chief exec of the RAB.

In a letter last week he told the Minister: "Yorkshire Forward has not been a supporter of the YH RAB" and that YH RAB has been "severely damaged and is imploding".

A spokesman for the DTI said he was aware of the dispute but insisted that it was a matter for YH RAB and Yorkshire Forward. He said that Government policy was not under threat and that there were no reports of any problems with other RABs.

"However, if there are issues and concerns then these will be looked at," he said.

In a statement, Yorkshire Forward insisted that the YH RAB "continues to be fully operational with the full support of the DTI and Yorkshire Forward Board".

"These recent events at the RAB will have no impact at all on the take-up of broadband," it said. ®

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