Features: October 28th, 2003

Delivering Seamless Services


 As the debate concerning broadband rolls on, Cambridgeshire County Council has adopted an innovative approach to make the benefits of high-speed Internet access available to citizens across the county.

In September 2002, the Council launched the Cambridgeshire Community Network (CCN) in partnership with NTL Business, a leading provider of business communications to the public sector.

The CCN will be the UK’s most ambitious and inclusive countywide broadband community network, delivering high-speed Internet access and allowing the introduction of electronic services for the local community. It will also provide a long-term infrastructure for the council’s internal communications, enabling more efficient practice within the council itself, in turn leading to increased productivity and flexible working for employees.

Bringing services together

The network, which is currently being rolled out, will initially link more than 300 council buildings, including offices, schools and libraries, plus community access points from pubs to post offices. From these points local people will be able to access the network via high-speed broadband cable connections.

The network is being developed in partnership with East Cambridgeshire District Council and Huntingdonshire District Council. It provides inbuilt capacity for expansion to meet the expected dramatic increase in traffic as the 2005 deadline for all public services to be provided draws closer, and links are also planned to health service organisations.

The county includes the medieval university city of Cambridge as well as Ely and Peterborough with their cathedrals, and the Georgian town of Wisbech. It has a diverse economy, renowned as a centre of excellence for the IT and telecommunications industries. But in the agricultural north the county suffers problems of rural isolation, difficult communications and lower literacy standards.

For the 560,000 citizens who live in Cambridgeshire, the broadband network will deliver a range of new services such electronic government transactions. The effect on rural communities will probably be greater than elsewhere. The doors of community centres, libraries, pubs and post offices will in effect become doors into council services and the Internet. Free tuition in computer skills and using the Internet will also be available in community centres and other places. The network will play a major role in countering social exclusion.

For schools, libraries, learning and community centres, the system will enable online information and resource sharing; it will also provide teachers and pupils with high-speed access to the National Grid for Learning.

Local businesses will benefit from a wealth of useful information, from trading standards, health and safety content to European legislation and trading opportunities.

Using the network to drive modernization

The County Council is pursuing a modernisation programme and the network is the engine driving it forward. More effective working practices are being developed, staff will be able to work more flexibly and increases in productivity will result. Local Strategic Partnerships across the county will benefit from easier access to information and a ready made means of getting their message out to the public. It is also planned to introduce smart cards for such services as transport and leisure.

In order to obtain the maximum value from its technology investment, Cambridgeshire County Council merged a number of funding streams to pay for the implementation of the CCN. The eight-year contract with NTL Business is worth ?, of which ?million was sourced from central government for joining up public services. This was supplemented by existing network budget for the county council, the People’s Network funding for connecting libraries, and National Grid for Learning funding from the Department for Education and Skills.

The programme is directed by a Partnership Board with representatives from the County and District councils, the local education authority, health organisations, the Department of Trade and Industry and NTL Business. Project implementation is being managed by a Steering Group of senior managers and the NTL Business project manager.

The project has helped the County to attain Beacon status under the category of ‘Social Inclusion through ICT’. The purpose of the Beacon Council scheme is to identify best practice in councils and enable them to share that with other authorities to improve service delivery across the country. The CCN was also recently named ‘Broadband Project of the Year’ by Computing Magazine.