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Chinese flight to controversial technology firm Huawei defended by county council

PUBLISHED: 12:31 03 October 2019 | UPDATED: 13:16 03 October 2019

Shanghai. Pic: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos

Shanghai. Pic: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos

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Norfolk County Council has come under fire after two of its IT officers flew to China to talk to a controversial technology company.

Independent Norfolk county councillor Sandra Squire. Pic: Norfolk Independent Group.Independent Norfolk county councillor Sandra Squire. Pic: Norfolk Independent Group.

Huawei made national headlines earlier this year when senior security figures warned of risks entailed in allowing the Chinese firm access to the UK's communications network when 5G mobile networks are rolled out.

The US is boycotting the company, citing security concerns, although Huawei has denied use of its products is a security risk and it is independent of the Chinese government.

County Hall defended the trip, saying it will help support efforts to use technology to save money and was paid for by Huawei.

The trip came to light at a council meeting where Liberal Democrat Steffan Aquarone questioned why council representatives did not attend a County Hall conference about full fibre connectivity for Norfolk.

Liberal Democrat Steffan Aquarone. Pic: Dan GrimmerLiberal Democrat Steffan Aquarone. Pic: Dan Grimmer

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Tom FitzPatrick, cabinet member for innovation, transformation and performance, said he had prior commitments, while the council's head of IT was in China "on business for the council".

The council confirmed two members of its information management and technology team made a business trip to China as guests of Huawei, to visit Huawei HQ in Shenzhen and a technology Expo in Shanghai.

A council spokesman said the trip's purpose was for officers to learn about how Huawei technology could help the council.

The spokesman said: "They had meetings with the key contacts that manage the business relationship with Norfolk County Council that to date has seen Huawei help save the council around a quarter of a million pounds over the life of our Local Area Network costs.

"All flights, hotels, local transport, entry fees for the Expo and food and drinks were covered by Huawei and the only costs associated that were not covered were their Visa fees and UK travel to and from Heathrow airport."

But independent councillor Sandra Squire said: "We have got so many technology companies in the UK and it doesn't look good, when we're trying to reduce the council's carbon footprint, for people to be flying to China."

And Mr Aquarone said: "I would have thought a much more pressing agenda should be how to get full fibre broadband into rural areas of Norfolk."

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