Dorries hires former Tory donor to networks unit – but DCMS claims ‘fair and open process’

Simon Blagden has been appointed as chair of DCMS executive agency Building Digital UK

Credit: Jorge Guillen/Pixabay 

Digital secretary Nadine Dorries has appointed a former Tory donor to a key role in delivering the government’s broadband and mobile coverage plans across the UK.

Simon Blagden has been picked to chair Building Digital UK, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport agency in charge of delivering the government’s rollout of faster broadband and mobile network connectivity across the country. BDUK was formerly known as Broadband Delivery UK but was rebranded in 2019 – while retaining the same initialism.

The organisation’s new chair will work for two days per week and earn £80,000 per year in the BDUK job, which is a four-year contract. Blagden and companies he is associated with – including Pietas, where he was director from 2000 to 2020, and Avre Partnership, which he has been director of since 2014 – have donated more than £370,000 to the Conservative Party since 2015.

He was made a member of the UK Health Security Agency advisory board on 28 April.

Labour said shortly afterwards that Blagden’s UKHSA appointment was evidence of Conservatives appointing “one of their own to a crucial public role”.

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A DCMS spokesperson said: “Simon brings 30 years’ relevant industry experience and an impressive record of delivery on digital infrastructure projects. He was selected through a fair and open process by a panel consisting of external and independent members, which identified him as the strongest in a diverse field of candidates. He has been completely transparent about his previous political activity and the panel determined that this neither assists nor detracts from his suitability for the role.”

Blagden, who is chair of Fujitsu UK, will step down from another of his roles as chair of the telecoms supply chain diversification advisory council at DCMS.

Fujitsu UK sued DHSC’s predecessor, the Department of Health, for £700m over a failed IT project terminated in 2008.

When asked in May about Labour’s criticism of the appointments of Blagden and another former Tory donor, Oluwole Kolade, a DHSC spokesperson said political activity “is not a bar to holding public appointment”.

UKHSA also said at the time that all members of its advisory board had been appointed “in line with government protocols and would provide vital impartial oversight and advice to help UKHSA deliver its strategic objectives”.

Announcing the appointment, digital secretary Nadine Dorries said: “BDUK is critical to rolling out the lightning-fast broadband and mobile coverage needed to improve lives and drive productivity across the UK. Simon will be an extremely capable chair of BDUK thanks to his deep understanding of telecoms and wide breadth of experience in the sector.”

Blagden said he would use his experience “maximise” BDUK’s potential and advance the pace and ambition of its delivery.


Sam Trendall

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