Earlier in the week I had a meeting to talk about fast broadband in Somerset, along with some neighbouring colleagues, with the Minister for Digital Infrastructure, Matt Warman. The very clear picture from the Somerset MPs was that we all want more progress in getting fast and reliable connections to all homes and businesses as a top priority. It has been a frustrating time partly due to delays related to Coronavirus but also because there has been a retendering process for the contracts to deliver subsidised superfast connections to those outside the original commercial rollout area.
I am in touch with several local communities and businesses about their particular broadband issues. This year has made us all more aware than ever how important a reliable and fast internet connection can be, whether you are working from home, running more of your business online or just booking an online supermarket delivery.
The good news is we can expect real progress early next year with the tendering of delivery packages for subsidised gigabit fibre connections across the Connection Devon and Somerset region. The split into smaller packages to enable more competition and the involvement of smaller providers is something I have been calling for as it should lead to a more dynamic and reliable process. A new voucher scheme for hard to reach gigabit connection locations to enable communities who wish to accelerate things to take matters into their own hands is in the works to offer a similar scheme to that which exists for superfast today, and gigabit should be able to offer very much higher speeds, including than that which has to be offered by commercial providers currently under the Universal Service Obligation. I am arranging a further call with the Minister to look at issues specific to South Somerset and some particular issues that villages and businesses have been experiencing.
During the pandemic the Government has been offering strong support for Somerset and I am pleased that the Additional Restrictions Fund will provide over £3.3million in discretionary grants to support our local businesses. The idea of discretionary grants for businesses that did meet other criteria such as paying business rates was one of the things I pushed for during the lockdown in the spring. The fund is to be administered by the District Council and I am encouraging them to deliver the support as quickly as possible.
Equally important though is the work being done to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping. It is always a particular concern as we approach winter and Christmas that people are on the streets and I know that people in Yeovil have been worried about it too. I am in touch with the local Police who report that there are some enforcement procedures underway involving some of the people who are declining the help offered to them. An additional £250,000 of Government funding is coming to South Somerset to help set up lasting solutions and offer accommodation to rough sleepers during the pandemic with access to specialist staff to support them in rebuilding their lives.
Finally Somerset County Council are running a consultation on the Crewkerne and Ilminster Strategic School Review which is your chance to look at the proposals and have your say, including at some virtual public events. It runs until the 11th December and details are available on the Somerset.gov.uk website.
As always, if I can be of any help with local issues or you have an concern about national policy please do get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or you can call 01935314321.