Greater Manchester Combined Authority

Greater Manchester Local Full Fibre Network Programme

Briefly describe the initiative/ project/service; please include your aims and objectives

In early 2020, Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) procured Virgin Media O2 Business (VMB) to deliver and support fibre optic infrastructure to more than 1,550 public service sites for a 30 year period. This was a collaborative initiative, involving Bury, Bolton, Oldham, Rochdale, Stockport, Trafford and Wigan Councils as well as GMCA, GM Fire &Rescue (GMFRS) and Transport for Greater Manchester (TFGM). The £30 million programme, part funded by central government and part by the partners involved, was feasible because of the close working arrangements and partnership between the involved partners.

This government’s investment was secured through a competitive bidding process and awarded Greater Manchester over £23.7 million which also supported via Tameside and Manchester councils through separate but linked activity. When combination with the financial contributions of the partners, this was the UK’s largest Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN)Programme and would underpin a wide range of digital transformation and smart city projects.

In Greater Manchester there is an ambition to ensure that through technology procurements additional social benefits or value are secured for our people. This deal included a number of bold commitments to social value initiatives by VMB that would support Greater Manchester’s Digital Blueprint, including:

– Supporting young people across the region at risk of digital exclusion
– Connecting community sites across Greater Manchester, with free connectivity
– Creating 20 apprenticeships based in Greater Manchester
– Using employee volunteering hours across Greater Manchester to support community projects and helping schools to improve their digital services
– Committing to a local workforce based in Greater Manchester

It is estimated that as many as 1.2million residents in Greater Manchester either cannot get online or can only do so in a quite limited way, minimising the benefits that being online can offer. The LFFN commitment to digital skills and connectivity was a powerful contribution to fixing the digital divide in GM.

The LFFN delivery model was designed to deliver medium term savings for public sector partners on the basis of projected public sector spend on connectivity. The programme also aimed to:

– Engage early with relevant authorities, recognising that working at scale and procuring a contract that all authorities could use, under a framework contract with call-off arrangements – would allow each authority to benefit from a single procurement
exercise – rather than individual contracts across the seven involved localities
– Push fibre into parts of GM that were poorly served, seeding further investment then economic and social benefits
– Capitalise on contributory funding and enable significant cost savings across the contract term, charges for which would otherwise be incurred annually by suppliers.
– Achieve a significant uplift in productivity gain – through having Gigabit connectivity for Public Sector use.

This was modelled based on the number of users at each site and the likely benefit against occupants at the site and cost per employee. The modelled benefit showed a 12% uplift in productivity and this was appraised across the first sites to be connected – where actual productivity uplift levels where around 20%.

The seven authorities involved and GMCA (on behalf of TFGM and GMFRS) signed-up-to a Collaboration Agreement. This was a unique approach for the city region in a project of this type and involved partners who committed both organisationally and financially to a clear set of ways of working for the 30 year duration of the contract.

What are the key achievements?

The project’s success was driven through collaboration between Greater Manchester’s local authorities, GMCA, GMFRS, TFGM and the private sector. It was the first collaboration at this scale for a region wide, strategic digital infrastructure initiative and needed to both bring together and build trust across a range of stakeholders, including those from ICT and digital, economic development, finance, legal, estates, procurement and place. The project required sign-off from CEOs and Leaders of each of the partners, plus also three other council Leaders for GMCA’s own elements via the GMCA Board.

The procurement was structured to include “must have” sites and “would like to have” sites, and during the tender process additional points were awarded for the number of “would like to have” sites included. Additional points were also awarded for each year beyond the minimum 20-year term that the assets would be made available. This approach resulted in being able to secure 30 years of access to the infrastructure, plus an additional 400 locations being connected, at no additional cost, exceeding the cost benefit modelling in the Outline Business Case.

DCMS recognised the completion of the build and the closure of the programme in August 2022. It was noted that the project:
– Exceeded the local employment target, with an average 78% of the LFFN workforce based in Greater Manchester
– Brought £19.7m-worth of economic value to the local area (direct and indirect) in the first two years
– Has pushed fibre into several areas of Greater Manchester where previously there was relatively poor connectivity, with households and businesses in those areas benefitting as a consequence
– Created resilient infrastructure across the city region – as all the fibre connects back to 33 interconnected BT Openreach telephone exchanges, creating platform for shared IT services
– Achieved many social value commitments, including VMB:
– Contributing to the Greater Manchester Technology Fund, supporting young people with devices and data when schools closed during the pandemic
– Taking on 38 new Greater Manchester-based apprentices, running ahead of the original apprenticeship targets set
– Donating to the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity, supporting the A Bed Every Night programme
– Funding three digital skills programmes with the Prince’s Trust and GMCA
– Co-funding an independent study into digital inclusion within the context of social housing
– Offering free wireless surveys to improve digital services in schools and community spaces
– Creating 2 x 10Gb managed internet circuits to increase the resilience of the GM Full Fibre Network
– Connecting a total of 21 public sites in Greater Manchester, including homeless shelters, charities and community centres.
– These are benefiting from free fibre broadband connectivity until 2025

Whilst work on building the LFFN infrastructure was underway, several of the partners initiated the GM One Network procurement project to “light the fibre”. This subsequent £22.3M programme and joint procurement will generate almost £10 million of financial and social benefits with contracts being awarded in summer 2022. This was the first GM project to use the “Social Value Portal” in order to score and compare social value contributions. The intentional flexibility and way GMCA worked with VMB has led to a new type of public private partnership through the secondment of a VMB project manager into the GMCA. This is unique with regards to partnerships between the telecommunications industry and their public sector customers and came as a direct result of the LFFN programme. It has led to the creation and delivery of numerous successful projects, which are driven by the Mayor of Greater Manchester’s manifesto pledge and subsequent agenda to digitally enable all Greater Manchester’s citizens and tackle digital poverty.

GMCA’s Digital Inclusion Agenda is recognised as one of the leading programmes in the UK in tackling digital exclusion and this secondment has lasted for over 18 months so far. The programme was even featured on ITV Granada Reports, with a feature at Deeplish Community Centre, one of the community sites gifted free connectivity for five years. Operations Manager at the centre, Sohail Ahmad, said: “The free fibre broadband at Deeplish Community Centre is improving people’s prospects and breaking down digital exclusion barriers made worse during the pandemic. Without the improved connectivity at our site, many in our community would be locked out of today’s digital society.

“Instead, more than 500 local people can now get online for free at our centre, learning new skills: from online banking, to using digital tools to support the language barrier we have in our community – or even young people visiting the site to complete their homework. Thanks to the programme, we’re seeing improved wellbeing and new prospects for our people.”

How Innovative is your initiative?

This project was innovative in several ways: Establishing a jointly authored Collaboration Agreement at this scale for a digital initiative across seven local authorities, GMCA , GMFRS and TFGM had not been done before in GM. Getting all the partners, together and over the line, going through eight sets of local government governance in parallel and linked with DCMS Gateway approvals, was hard and the whole timeline and interdependencies was visualised across a series of whiteboards in the office. This agreement also helped shape the way to deliver a 30-year partnership for better connectivity services.

The partner financial model was innovative as it involved identifying and bringing forward future telecoms infrastructure spend
from over a twenty-year period. To support further implementation efficiencies GMCA produced an digital prospectus that was co-authored and shared across all authorities describing how the programme would be implemented and how future investment in digital connectivity would be delivered, post programme. The project team pioneered many firsts for GM, with the creation of duct sharing agreements for traffic signals and
standardised wayleaves for all public sector assets to be connected, reducing significant burden on relevant teams in each local authority when processing individual application requests. We estimate this has saved over 4,000 hours of staff time processing applications – a significant saving to the public purse.

Whilst the pandemic impacted site access, supply chains and staff capacity, the work was implemented on budget and to the required scope and quality. The project pivoted to continue to bring together a large number of senior stakeholders, against challenging grant funding timescales, using a combination of hybrid working methods and socially distanced meetings. The social value component of the procurement also pivoted to align with the challenges of the pandemic. Communications was a key driver in the success of the programme. A toolkit was created to ensure that accessible
information was available to all local authorities and stakeholders across the region. The toolkit was updated every two months and shared with relevant communication leads from all stakeholders involved, and project leads within each local authority area, encouraging them to issue their own localised communication. Communication focussed on the social value outputs of LFFN, allowing us to clearly demonstrate the benefit to our residents a humanise often technical messaging. The programme resulted in VMB rethinking its business model and bringing social value into the heart of its business decision making. VMB have contributed the following perspective:

“Each council has a hyperlocal understanding of their constituents’ needs and challenges; VMB found that by working hand in glove with the right teams, they were able to learn where support was most needed. Furthermore, as the third sector is a key strategic partner for all local authorities, collaborating with these organisations proved pivotal to delivering social value. This framework of engagement and collaboration has become fundamental to the way VMB delivers social value with its public sector customers across the UK.

In addition, GMCA’s significant Digital Inclusion agenda also demonstrated the need for the private sector to support the region with targeted interventions that improve access to digital services and skills. Leveraging their digital heritage, VMB now focus social value commitments that support digital inclusion, both in Greater Manchester and the rest of the UK. Through the partnership, VMB developed a brand-new volunteering programme, ‘Connect More’, to help equip digitally excluded local community residents with the skills, confidence, and motivation to use everyday technology and get online to make the most of the internet. The programme was created directly because of the links between GMCA and VMB including project creation sessions with VMB graduates, the GMCA Digital Inclusion Programme Manager and GMCA Digital colleagues. The launch of the national Connect More Programme was successfully piloted with GMCA, which saw volunteers from VMB work directly with the combined authority to identify areas within the community to engage with – such as Wythenshawe Community Housing Group, where many of the free digital skills sessions were hosted. This relationship being established due to the GMCA’s digital inclusion social housing project which was co-created and co-lead by the Digital Inclusion Programme Manager. This new programme is now paving the way for VMB to deliver more targeted volunteering support through its public sector partnerships.

What are the key learning points?


The success of delivering social value through this procurement relied on working closely with each local authority to truly understand local priorities. For example, when it came to delivering the free broadband, each locality needed to provided priority premises to receive the support. The local authorities that ‘leaned in’ the most to the social value programme received support the quickest. Therefore, the highest impact certainly came from initiatives underpinned by collaboration.

Working through the pandemic presented its own challenges – from availability of and depletion of resources (both contractor and local authority) to access to public sector buildings, many of which were locked-down during the pandemic and required estates teams to be on-hand in a safe manner to facilitate connections. From a social value perspective, a key success factor was flexibility. For example, pivoting the offer to tackle some of the challenges the pandemic brought, something that we didn’t envisage would be a requirement when the deal was signed!


This was the largest public sector connectivity programme in the country funded by DCMS with over £30m of public funding committed, connecting over 1500 public sector sites, within 24 months. This was completed through the pandemic when resources were depleted and access to public sector sites was severely restricted. Through close partnership working, enabler tools and agreements; and a shared commitment and passion to secure the outcomes (both financial and social enhancements) the programme achieved all objectives through the build stage.

Over 200 stakeholders were engaged across the city region to deliver this project, including legal and estates teams, highways and street-works teams, digital, ICT teams and planning teams. This required significant stakeholder management and engagement – through workshops, steering groups and programme boards. VMB provided dedicated relationship managers for each local authority which allowed constructive performance conversations to take place around delivery and access to sites. Dedicated, expert project and programme management skills were essential, as well as support from experienced legal, procurement, and communications professionals.

During the build we established a duct sharing agreement for VMB to utilise traffic signal ducting and reduce complex traffic management at key junctions, reducing journey time delays and supporting a post-covid recovery. The project was at the forefront of true collaborative working with local authorities at this scale – outside of London. Establishing standardised wayleaves, joint working practices and a prospectus that described how and what policies and enablers each authority have out in-place was a first for a city region in relation to digital infrastructure. For VMB, the social value programme associated with the GM LFFN programme has been one of the largest to date and has provided plenty of learnings about how to successfully deliver social value. Following the success of this partnership, VMB’s approach to social value now focusses on delivering local impact through open and flexible collaboration. With the organisation understanding that to maximise impact, it should focus on combining expertise in the digital space with their customers’ unique network of local expertise.


The shift to online working meant that it was possible to convene the project board regularly – which became every week from mid-2021 in order that progress could be monitored and any issues or risks addressed quickly. It would not been feasible to do so as regularly or effectively in a face to face or telephone only manner. Significant effort was made to build a partnership dialogue and avoid becoming adversarial with VMB or their contractors, whilst at the same time maintaining open and frank dialogue. To help ensure this, successes and progress was celebrated, site visits attended, challenges were explored collectively and collaboratively, and chief officer engagement sought from VMB. The latter was important to ensure the initiative had the focus, commitment and resources it needed from VMB. This was necessarily not least because quarterly delivery targets needed to be hit by the project in order for funding to flowfrom DCMS. This brought GMCA, the wider partners and VMB together as it was in no-one’s interest for this to fail.