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The agriculture, food and rural communities directorate and the digital directorate helped to shape the design of the broadband scheme that community broadband Scotland is delivering under the Scottish rural development programme for 2014 to 2020. The First Minister launched the broadband scheme in Oban on 24 August.
Broadband is essential for rural and island communities and businesses. Only yesterday, the internet on Arran in my constituency was down for most of the day. Next summer, 97 per cent of Arran will receive superfast broadband but, as things stand, the 150 or so people in Machrie will not. What steps will the cabinet secretary and his colleagues take to ensure that Machrie is included in Arran’s superfast broadband roll-out?
Kenny Gibson rightly highlights the importance of broadband to rural communities and to rural development. It is great news that so many people in Arran are benefiting from the latest investments.
The purpose of community broadband Scotland and the rural broadband scheme, which is a separate scheme worth £9 million through the rural development programme, is to reach out to communities in harder-to-reach areas that might not benefit from the wider programme. The investment is significant. The broadband scheme brings various communities together to find their own solution and supports that. Community broadband Scotland is for individual community schemes. I hope that Mr Gibson’s constituents can take advantage of those two significant funds so that all people on our island communities can connect to fast broadband.
Does the Scottish Government intend to assess the number of online applicants for the single farm payment who are forced to use library and college broadband facilities because of slow broadband speeds or a total lack of access to broadband? Will the cabinet secretary give a reassurance that the Scottish Government will give appropriate support in the future to those who are affected?
Additional support was made available at local regional offices for farmers and crofters who were applying online for farm payments and did not have adequate broadband in their homes. I am willing to send the member statistics on those who applied online through the new system but, if I recall correctly, the overall figure for online applications was at least the same as, if not higher than, that in the old system, despite all the doom and gloom that many people expressed. Applying online is the way forward, and I believe that we are giving adequate support to ensure that people can access broadband to apply online for farm payments.
I note the cabinet secretary’s answer regarding the online applications that are increasingly being asked of crofters and farmers. What will he do with community broadband Scotland to reach the areas that Kenny Gibson mentioned, given that there are still many parts of the Highlands and Islands where no such broadband is available at all?
As Tavish Scott is aware, there was enormous frustration in Scotland’s rural communities for many years over the lack of progress in broadband availability. The substantial investment that has been made available over the past couple of years, which is making a huge difference to mainland and island communities, is therefore very welcome. That is why we also set up the specific funds in community broadband Scotland to target the harder-to-reach areas that would not benefit directly from the main investments. We are working hard with the new broadband scheme, which is worth £9 million, as well as the existing community broadband scheme, to allow bespoke solutions to be found in our rural and island communities.