Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-47)|
TUESDAY 5 MARCH 2002
40. Do you see the re-organisation of health
trusts as an opportunity perhaps to work with them and to improve
this facility? Primary care trusts are being reorganised at this
(Mr Blowers) Let us hope so.
41. Have you had any discussions with health
(Mr Blowers) I think we are in constant discussion
with individual health authorities as and when invitations to
tender come up. This question of how, at the strategic level,
procurement is managed within particular sectors is an issue which
the Government has now said it will look at, and indeed has asked
the office of Government commerce to look at that question and
to come up with some templates for how procurement may work most
effectively, and that is something we very much welcome.
(Mr Tse) I think the extension to that is that what
the Assembly is looking at now is aggregated demand from the public
sector to stimulate the competition. We were talking about the
economics of Wales as such and looking at the number of commercial
organisations that are there, and if you take that to the next
logical step, it says if you look at the public sector and the
amount of money it then spends on communications and the whole
plethora of communications, then certainly aggregated demand is
one way of looking at stimulating that particular market and competition
for that market place.
42. So if there was an uptake on health and
regional general hospitals in north Wales, in Wrexham and Clwyd
in my consistency, and Bangor, and the infrastructure and pipes
were laid, would that mean that the areas surrounding those hospitals
would be able to get cheaper access?
(Mr Jeffers) There is always that potential. It is
worth stating that when you build a network for the business community
it is different to that of the residential community in a small
number of aspects. We would have network that would deliver services
to a university or hospital but what it does not have is breakout
points or street cabinets with electronics in it and so forth,
but obviously one of the dearest parts of laying any network is
the physical infrastructure so it is very valid to say that, if
the business can pull a supplier into an area, then it becomes
a lot more competitive to open that network out to the homes properly
surrounding that. So there is huge potential, without doubt.
43. Is there any real possibility that video
conferencing and advanced services of that kind can reduce traffic
congestion in the short term?
(Mr Jeffers) Video conferencing has been one of those
pipedreams for many of us. It was something that was potentially
looked at and it has been talked about as the advantages of technology.
Anybody who has used it to any degree in the last couple of years
has probably found it a most frustrating experience. I know, as
we start to see the band width increase as we move from 512 K
to 1 M bit and 2 M bits and realistic pricing it will encourage
more people to use it because the technology will be something
that you can watch. It will be near broadcast quality. Today it
will do nothing for traffic congestion because you would be totally
frustrated to use it, but again that is where the industry has
a great role to play because it is a fantastic example of using
band width and broadband at a realistic speed. At half a Mega
bit, and better still at 1 Mega bit if you are using Mega bit,
you have a very realistic video conferencing service, so if you
can cut down even 5 or 10 per cent it would be well worth it.
I for one would swap an occasional plane journey for a video conference.
44. One of the problems in Wales is the north/south
link. If we could get that kind of quality that would help in
that way but would the systems be realistic to north and south
Wales? We have touched on the problems of rural areas but is the
hardware in place for north/south?
(Mr Jeffers) The band width you could say is there
today. It goes back to the point Simon made earlier: if we could
even build three or four video conferencing suites but do them
at very realistic prices so many people could use them at a realistic
price, then you would be able to afford the band width that already
exists in there, and as more and more of those applications come
about, then we will see that demand take off. To a degree, however,
at the moment, if you look at the video conferencing applications
that are out there, for an SME they are not competitive. It is
quicker to jump in the car and have the meeting face-to-face,
and certainly more cost effective.
45. There are a number of objectives, including
the priorities to increase the number of SMEs and technology and
IT, and raising skill levels. Do you know of any examples of Objective
1 money being used to enhance Wales' broadband infrastructure?
(Mr Jeffers) No, I do not.
(Mr Tse) No, not from the point of view of advancing
46. Do you know of examplesperhaps not
in Wales but in the rest of UK or Europewhere Objective
1 funding is being used to spread the word?
(Mr Blowers) I think we think that there is a restriction
on using Objective 1 funds for building infrastructure. I am not
the expert on this but, if that is the case, then it would highlight
one of the problems here: that at the moment the bottleneck is
getting the infrastructure out there. The structural funds are
not geared up to supporting that particular activity.
47. My understanding is that in the past the
physical infrastructureroads and railwayswere used
for Objective 1 funding, and then the EU thought that that should
not be a top priority, so they have lowered that as a priority.
(Mr Blowers) I have some good news and some bad. The
good is that the Governmentand, indeed, the European Commission
and the Spanish Presidencyare very keen to put broadband
high up on the list of priorities for the Barcelona Summit. That
means, I think, that there will be a ringing clarion call to member
states to stimulate and promote broadband infrastructure roll-out,
which is all to the good. In terms of the detail of what will
then follow from that it seems to me that one of the practical
implications is, do we need to look at the structural funds and
rules in order to say, actually this is a priority, it should
be moved back up the list, in just the same way as we spent a
large amount of money in the late 1980s and early 1990s in building
highways and motorways in parts of Spain, perhaps now is the time
to focus on broadband infrastructure. The opportunity exists.
The bad news is I have no real clarity on what will be said. I
know there will be a strong statement of vision but what we would
like is to get into the detail of what lies behind that, let us
see some detailed proposals from the Commission on how it is going
to take that forward.
Chris Ruane: This Committee has also a parallel
inquiry into Objective 1. Perhaps we can discuss that as one of
our recommendations, Chairman.
Chairman: I am sure we will be asking the WDA
direct questions about what possibilities there are in that area.
There are no other questions. Thank you very much, indeed, for