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Failed Mobile Infrastructure Project underspends return to Whitehall

Poor delivery partner engagement and unrealistic timetables for the government’s £150m Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) have been cited as the root causes for the programme’s failure, according to council leaders. 

An LGA survey of the councils that took part in the MIP, which was launched to tackle ‘mobile not-spots’ in rural areas, revealed that 70% of local authority respondents said their relationship with delivery partners was either ‘Not Very Effective’ or ‘Not at all Effective.’ 

Last year the government confirmed that there will be no second phase for the MIP, which will be formally completed in March 2016. But officials recently confirmed that less than 3% of the 600 planned masts have been built so far, with only another 60 potential sites currently being progressed. 

By the end of November 2015, it was noted that spend on the MIP was £9.1m from the £150m set aside in 2012. 

A report to the LGA’s People and Places Board noted that officers have pressed government to reinvest any underspend in future mobile connectivity projects, but “were informed all funding will be returned to central government”. 

LGA officers will continue to push government to reallocate any underspend to new projects related to tackling poor mobile connectivity, they said. 

The survey, which got replies from 60% of those areas that took part in the MIP, revealed that the failure of the delivery partner, Arqiva, to properly engage with residents on the placement of masts was also a key failure. 

In what the government had claimed was “a unique partnership approach” it provided capital funding for Arqiva to build the new MIP site infrastructure, while mobile network operators EE, Telefonica, Three and Vodafone would be providing coverage from the sites. 

But during a Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing last year, culture secretary John Whittingdale MP said: “The MIP is continuing until the end of the financial year and is, I hope, going to deliver at least 40 masts, but it has proved more challenging, I think, than was initially understood. 

“The operators, Arqiva, have run into lots of difficulties, and so the initial prediction of how many masts we could get we have had to accept has come down.” 

At the time, Sarah Lee, head of policy for the Countryside Alliance, said it was a huge disappointment for rural communities and businesses that rely on mobile phone connectivity. 

The LGA said there will be some key lessons for the industry, especially on improving engagement with planning authorities and communities. 

“It will be imperative that this is collated and disseminated by government for use in future roll-out programmes,” said the report. “LGA officers will press civil servants to share any lessons once the project formally completes in March 2016.”


Cllr George Springer   14/01/2016 at 16:54

This is so typical not only of Government but local councils to! If you introduce a scheme and don't ensure it's actually carried out efficiently when it fails you declare "it's unworkable" and therefore scrapped. Will someone work out how to stop this waste of money or is this all part of" jobs for the boys" mentality. Thanks open to suggestions.

Jackie Porter   15/01/2016 at 10:11

I agree- a huge disappointment- and if our local experience is anything to go by, I can see why it hasn't brought enough sites rural areas the e are paying for a high class service but getting a bad one. This has to be improved- and we really can't wait until this experiment has ended to try again.

Derek Heap   17/01/2016 at 23:30

As the Chairman of a parish council I can say we had had a good relationship with the delivery partner, planning permission was granted, there were no access problems and we were told the mast would be erected in Jan'16. Hence we were most surprised to receive a letter in late December from Harlequin telling us the project had been cancelled with the vaguest of explanations. We have asked for a clear explanation after so much had been put in to this project and expectations raised, but we are still waiting.

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