The Welsh Government have changed their “processes” in order to make it harder for professional lobbyists’ to access ministers, which occurred after a “misunderstanding” resulted in lobbyist Daran Hill attending a meeting between the Economy Minister, Ken Stakes, and UK fibre optic broadband ISP Cityfibre.
Under the rules ministers are not supposed to have formal meetings with commercial lobbyists like Daran Hill of Positif, although unlike other parts of the UK there is no official register for such individuals or groups. Assembly members are instead expected to voluntarily publish their meetings with lobbyists and interest groups (the job of a professional lobbyist is to influence government policy).
In this case the BBC reports that Ken Skates AM held a formal meeting with Cityfibre to discuss an unspecified broadband issue in June 2018 (we’ve asked for a comment on this and are awaiting reply). Daran Hill is then understood to have arrived alongside other scheduled attendees, although he had not himself been invited to the event.
Mr Hill has since apologised for putting the Welsh Economy Minister, who he says did not know of his attendance, in an “awkward” position and has complained that he was unaware of the “opaque” rules that have “never been properly laid out.”
A Welsh Government Spokesperson said:
“In June the then economy secretary met an assembly member and an external company to discuss a broadband issue. It became apparent that one of the party had brought a guest with them who had not been on the attendee list.
We recognise that this person’s attendance at the meeting was not in line with usual Welsh Government procedures and have since changed our processes to prevent such a misunderstanding from happening again.”
So far Cityfibre has predominantly tended to focus their Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) and Dark Fibre style deployments on urban areas in England and Scotland, although they do manage a smaller public sector focused 7km “Community Safety Network” in Newport (Wales) alongside Logicalis (this connects about 50+ sites).
The operator is also in the process of investing £2.5bn to roll-out a 1Gbps home broadband network to cover 5 million UK premises by the end of 2024 (here), which is being done alongside support from ISP partner Vodafone. But at present this doesn’t appear to include any cities or towns in Wales. No doubt a lot of people would love to see Cityfibre doing more deployments in Wales.