Superconnected Cities Initiative (State-aid Rules)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 13 June 2013.

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Photo of Colin Keir Colin Keir Scottish National Party

3. To ask the Scottish Government what the implications are for the ambitions set out in “Scotland’s Digital Future: A Strategy for Scotland” of the United Kingdom Government’s superconnected cities initiative funding for Edinburgh not meeting state-aid rules. (S4O-02254)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government is extremely disappointed that the UK Government has been unable to secure state-aid clearance for key aspects of its superconnected cities scheme. As a result of that failure, projects in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Perth will no longer deliver ultrafast broadband access through the scheme. That could make the achievement of our national infrastructure ambitions more challenging.

However, we are collaborating with Scotland’s cities on a range of digital initiatives through the Scottish cities alliance. A key part of that work will be to ensure that any future funding for broadband in cities is planned properly from the outset, in conjunction with the European Commission, to ensure full state-aid compliance.

Photo of Colin Keir Colin Keir Scottish National Party

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, although the superconnected cities initiative is well intentioned, it has involved a huge waste of public funds because of the Westminster Government’s apparent lack of awareness of state-aid rules, which has resulted in my constituents in rural west Edinburgh, in places such as Kirkliston, not having the broadband connection speeds and infrastructure that they were promised and which they deserve?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I agree that, although the superconnected cities scheme was undoubtedly well intentioned, there appears to have been a lack of foresight and a lack of planning on the UK Government’s part to ensure that the scheme was state-aid compliant. The last-minute redesign of the programme has placed enormous pressure on Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Perth, which, at very short notice, have had to refocus their plans on city wi-fi and voucher schemes for small and medium-sized enterprises.

We have supported and will continue to support the City of Edinburgh Council through the process, and we remain hopeful that the redesigned proposals will still deliver benefits for the city. However, the lack of infrastructure remains disappointing. I should say that west Edinburgh remains in our step change programme, which should help us to enhance broadband speeds in the area.

As I said in my original answer, we are working with the Scottish cities alliance on a project to map digital infrastructure across Scotland. That will give us a basis on which to plan future investment, which we will ensure is state-aid compliant.