The West of England Combined Authority wanted to develop a Digital Infrastructure Action Plan that would help achieve specific regional connectivity targets for WECA and the neighbouring council of North Somerset. They commissioned FarrPoint to identify the biggest impact in regards to digital connectivity and develop an action plan.
The (this will open in a new window)West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (the LEP) is a partnership of councils, universities and business representatives covering the West of England Combined Authority and North Somerset. The (this will open in a new window)Metro Mayor of the West of England included commitments for digital connectivity in his 2021 mayoral (this will open in a new window)manifesto. The LEP commissioned FarrPoint to work with them to assess the current approach, create an action plan and begin the formal business case process by creating content for a Strategic Outline Case.
The development of the Digital Infrastructure Action Plan and a Strategic Outline Case (SOC) would allow the LEP to better understand and maximise the impact of public investment in infrastructure. It would also ensure that the residents across the project area have the connectivity they need, meeting at least the national average and, where possible, exceeding it.
FarrPoint needed to identify where the most significant impact of digital connectivity could be made and how this could be achieved. The development of a comprehensive plan was essential to help the LEP understand their current digital footprint and provide guidance for them to make informed decisions for future development.
Over the previous 18 months, the LEP collected a lot of information and collated views from the disparate quarters of its organisation. The challenge was to develop these views into an actionable plan for delivery. The Metro Mayor's priorities created an opportunity to develop an outcomes-based plan based on a set of benefits measured against the LEPs ambition to deliver for the residents and businesses of the four councils.
FarrPoint reviewed publicly available information and held discussions with stakeholders and the broadband infrastructure market. This analysis was mapped to enable a recognisable and detailed view of the current connectivity landscape. This information was then analysed in depth, with a narrative to include assumptions for future connectivity based on the public plans of operators such as (this will open in a new window)Openreach, (this will open in a new window)Virgin Media/(this will open in a new window)O2, (this will open in a new window)CityFibre and other network providers (Alt Nets).
In parallel, FarrPoint assessed the current set of outcomes described by the LEP and concluded that a better return on investment, and a more equitable use of public funds, could be found by changing the outcomes to ensure that priority was given to areas with poor connectivity, rather than improving the available broadband speed for communities already receiving speeds above the national standard. From modelling undertaken by FarrPoint, this approach would deliver benefits four times greater than the current requirement.
This recommendation was made in an interim report and was quickly adopted by the LEP. The subsequent work then created an action plan, with milestones and clear deliverables for the LEP, alongside the known plan for commercially deployed infrastructure and the projected impact of UK Government schemes, such as Project Gigabit.
Alongside this action plan, FarrPoint produced content for the LEP’s Strategic Outline Case with notes and dependencies for completion. This SOC included a number of deliverable options for the LEP, from simply creating the conditions for investment through to a direct intervention to fully fund the required infrastructure. The SOC also included modelled benefits for creating a local coordination body within the LEP responsible for the delivery of communications infrastructure and a recommendation to improve the available data for mobile networks through some form of active survey.
FarrPoint were professional, flexible, and methodical in their approach to the project. The team took the time to understand our level of knowledge and their collaborative approach meant that we fully understood their recommendations and findings. Through thorough analysis, FarrPoint established the scale and scope of what is required to improve connectivity across the West of England, underpinned by cost benefit analysis and investment estimates. The outputs were easy to comprehend, clearly laying out what actions the Authority need to undertake in order to achieve our objectives. Overall, FarrPoint were a pleasure to work with and the outputs of the project were very well-received by all stakeholders.
The Combined Authority is now mobilising the Digital Infrastructure Action Plan developed by FarrPoint.
(this will open in a new window)Freyja Lockwood, the Digital Transformation Programme Manager at WECA shares in detail what their next steps are:
Our work now includes establishing a regional coordination function as recommended and strengthening our ability to monitor the region’s connectivity landscape in more detail, building on FarrPoint’s in-depth analysis. Working closely with Councils and leaders, a focused programme of work is being initiated in line with the actions FarrPoint detailed in the Action Plan. The outputs of the project have provided a solid foundation for working as a region to improve connectivity and establishing better ways of working with stakeholders. FarrPoint’s knowledge and experience have been instrumental in helping build the capability and capacity we need to deliver better connectivity in the region.
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