Superfast Broadband Coverage

– in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd May 2017.

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Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

3. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the cost of delivering 100 per cent broadband coverage by 2021, and how much it has invested in this programme to date. (S5O-00941)

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

It is not yet possible to determine the cost to the public sector of delivering our 100 per cent superfast broadband commitment. That will be determined through the procurement process, which will start later this year. A key driver is to maximise investment from suppliers, which will reduce the cost to the public purse.

We are currently pre-procurement, so there has been no capital investment in the reaching 100 per cent programme to date, but we have provision to invest up to £112 million during 2017-18 to improve digital infrastructure throughout Scotland. That funding will support the final phases of the £400 million digital Scotland superfast broadband programme, which will deliver 95 per cent fibre broadband coverage across Scotland and enable new activity to begin on the delivery of our 100 per cent superfast broadband commitment and our mobile infill plans. That funding is in addition to the £18 million that is being reinvested through the two DSSB contracts as a result of gainshare.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Ofcom believes that it will cost up to another £250 million to reach everyone with superfast broadband by 2021. By what date will Parliament be told how much of the Scottish Government’s budget is contributing to that programme? Does the cabinet secretary have confidence that his colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution will be forthcoming with all the necessary funds?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I have supreme confidence in my colleague, whose ability was evidenced by his forecast in a very difficult matter to an accuracy of 1 per cent. That was quite an outstanding success; it is just a shame that others are so churlish that they cannot recognise that.

Ofcom, which Mr Rumbles mentioned, recognised that the success in Scotland in the delivery of broadband has exceeded by some measure the performance of our friends down south.

When will we deliver the coverage? We will make progress over the summer and proceed with procurement at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. As I informed Mr Rumbles in a 90-minute evidence session just this morning, we will keep him fully informed.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Given that telecommunications are a reserved matter, when did the cabinet secretary last meet United Kingdom Government ministers to discuss their role in achieving 100 per cent superfast broadband in Scotland?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I first sought a meeting with the relevant UK minister, Matt Hancock, by letter in October, then by letter in January, and then by letter in February. To date, he has not agreed to a meeting, so we have not yet had Hancock’s half hour, if that is what it is to be called.

To be serious, it is disrespectful that the UK minister will not meet us to discuss serious matters that are of real importance to Scotland. That does not really suggest that the UK Government cares for Scotland a great deal, does it?

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

Contrary to what the cabinet secretary has just said, is it not the case that, of the £412 million being invested in broadband in Scotland, only 15 per cent of that funding came from the Scottish Government and over £100 million came from the UK Government? Will the cabinet secretary join me in cheerily welcoming that UK Government investment in Scotland’s digital infrastructure?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I struggle always to be cheerful, despite the provocation that we have in this place. However, as a lawyer, I remind the member that schedule 5, part II, section C10 to the Scotland Act 1998 states quite clearly that responsibility for investment in broadband, internet and mobile telephony rests entirely—100 per cent—with the UK Government. The member asking me to be grateful that the UK Government is contributing about a quarter of the total funding suggests to me that the Tories are not fit to stand up for Scotland.