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British Telecom: Disclosure of Information

Question for Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

UIN 128953, tabled on 14 December 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, with reference to the estimated £900 million clawback from his Department's Openreach contracts, what assessment he has made of the value to the public purse of the work of the whistleblower who eight years ago identified that BT were potentially inflating its charges for work provided in rolling out rural broadband.

Answered on

14 January 2021

I do not recognise the use of the term ‘whistleblower’. The person referred to in the

the question was, at the time, a contractor for BDUK who shared commercially confidential information without knowledge or authority from either BDUK or DCMS. By doing so they put the information in the public domain and as a result it was shared with the press.

The superfast contracts included capped and maximum prices, as well as clawback mechanisms to ensure that the public sector only paid on the basis of evidenced and eligible costs, which recovers the benefit of higher-than-forecast take-up. There is no opportunity for suppliers to ask for more funding if they overspend. As a result, suppliers such as Openreach reasonably incorporated contingency for higher build costs or lower take-up in their pricing at bid stage. The contract mechanisms have been effective in correcting the public subsidy requirement based on actual costs and take-up, and local authorities have reinvested funding clawed back to date in further coverage.

As noted in the October 2020 NAO report into the superfast programme, DCMS estimates that these mechanisms to safeguard value for money will return £0.9 billion to the public sector.