There is a £3,000 government grant available for SMEs to upgrade to superfast broadband. What do FMs in charge of multi-tenanted buildings need to know? Andrew Gedny of NextGenAccess explains.
1 July 2014
With fast, reliable broadband internet access becoming increasingly essential for businesses throughout the country the government has created its Super Connected Cities Programme (SCCP).
With funding of £150 million, businesses in 22 cities across the nation can take advantage of the scheme to upgrade their access to the internet. The fund aims to support economic growth and jobs across the UK by improving the ability of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) to access high-grade broadband.
Working through 21 city councils, the Mayor of London's office and all London boroughs, Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) will manage distribution of this grant funding through a voucher scheme. BDUK, part of the Department of Culture, Media & Sport, is responsible for defining the qualifying rules and creating the application processes. Alongside companies such as NextGenAccess and the other scheme-registered telecoms suppliers, BDUK is currently informing SMEs about the benefits of enhanced broadband.
What does it pay for?
Individual firms can apply for vouchers worth up to £3,000. This grant can only be used to cover the costs of the improved broadband connection - just the capital and equipment costs of installing faster internet access. It cannot be used to pay for any ongoing service rental fees. To qualify, there must be a genuine change in broadband speed. This is defined as being at least 30Mbps on a shared line or 20Mbps if a dedicated service is being provided on a dedicated basis. The other qualifying criterion is that the new speed must be at least double that of the previous one.
The grant recipient is responsible for the VAT element of the connection charge as well as the subsequent monthly line charges levied by the telecoms provider delivering the service.
SMEs sharing a building may pool together their grant money and by doing so can collectively obtain a better level of service than they would otherwise get on their own. The only caveat to this is that the combined pool of money cannot exceed £20,000, except under exceptional circumstances. That amount of money is usually enough to provide a very fast shared service. A single company applying may be able to install a 100mbit connection, but if three or four companies apply jointly they may be able to share a 1gbit connection for the same price.
The FM's role
If a managed building is multi-tenanted then the occupants can benefit by co-operating and pooling grant money to install the improved broadband connection.
This grant pooling also provides an opportunity for landlords and agents who may wish to provide connectivity to tenants as part of their tenancy agreements.
In such a scenario the role of the facilities manager would be to facilitate the grant application for a shared connection, either independently or by working with a registered telecoms supplier who can help guide them through the process as well as providing technical insight.
An agreement would be entered into with a registered supplier for a single high-speed connection that would be shared among all the eligible SMEs within the building that wished to participate. The costs for the connection would be shared among the applicant companies using their grant money.
With a shared service application the qualifying rules stipulate that each individual SME connection must deliver a step change in service and be compliant with the minimum standards defined for service and technology. This is a great opportunity for FMs to work with landlords and tenants to ensure that the facilities they provide deliver a connected working place for the digital economy. Access to high-speed broadband is recognised as for outweighing other amenities by tenants when choosing new business locations.
For building owners or management companies, access to high-speed broadband can be an important selling point and deliver a competitive edge for attracting and retaining tenants.
The second point of interest is access, planning and wayleaves. SMEs that have successfully applied for a SCCP voucher may require direct fibre or a wireless service to be delivered to their office. This can involve new lateral digs from a supplier's network to 'pop' a building with fibre optic cables and services or may require a wireless aerial to be located on the building. It is important that any supplier delivering a service produces a method statement and the SME applicant conforms to any licence or tenancy agreement terms.
Who can apply?
SMEs or a registered charity, social enterprise or sole trader may apply. Applicants must be in one of the 22 participating cities, use a registered supplier and choose a high-speed/high-grade connection.
Qualifying firms are defined as:
- Employing fewer than 249 people or volunteers;
- Having a turnover of under £41 million and/or having a balance sheet of about £35.5 million;
- Having received less than £1,598 in public grants in the past three years;
- Not operating in a sector that is excluded from the scheme; and
- Not having a parent company or linked enterprise fails to meet the eligibility criteria.
SCCP vouchers can be applied for until March 2015, but do not need to be used by then. The vouchers are designed to ensure that SMEs can access services that will drive the digital growth of the economy.
Details of the eligibility criteria can be found at www.nextgenaccess.com/super-connected-cities
Andrew Gedny, managing director, NextGenAccess