Reaching 100 Per Cent Scheme

– in the Scottish Parliament on 5th December 2019.

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Photo of Peter Chapman Peter Chapman Conservative

4. To ask the Scottish Government when it expects to announce the preferred bidder to deliver the reaching 100 per cent scheme in the north area. (S5O-03868)

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

In response to a general question on 21 November that was lodged by Mike Rumbles, I announced that we have selected BT Plc as a preferred bidder for the north lot of the R100 programme.

Photo of Peter Chapman Peter Chapman Conservative

It is clear that the R100 programme is well behind its original timetable, and Fergus Ewing pledged to quit if he failed to deliver on the R100 project by 2021. As it is very clear that the scheme will not be delivered on that timeframe, will the minister follow the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy’s example?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

Oh dear. As we made clear in the information that we provided to, for example,

The Herald newspaper for its coverage today, the contracts that were referenced have been awarded to resource the R100 delivery team and therefore do not correlate directly with the date of completion of the deployment. To answer Mr Chapman, we are currently looking to complete the procurement process.

I want to set out the Government’s record on delivery on broadband for Scotland. We met our target for providing access to fibre broadband to 95 per cent of premises across Scotland on time and on budget. Indeed, we exceeded that target; more than 940,000 premises can now access fibre broadband, which is about 100,000 more than was anticipated. Digital Scotland superfast broadband gainshare funding will be deployed in 2020, so DSSB will continue into 2020 as we finalise the procurement process for R100.

We are going where others would not. Before the DSSB programme, there were no plans at all for commercial fibre deployment for Orkney, Shetland or the Western Isles. Now, more than 80 per cent of premises in those areas have access to broadband. We have gone faster, and 90 per cent of premises are now capable of accessing superfast broadband through DSSB, which far exceeds the original target of 77 per cent.

In saying that, I hope that I am giving Mr Chapman confidence that the Scottish Government will deliver on broadband. To be absolutely clear, the Scottish National Party is already well ahead of any United Kingdom party in its commitment to deliver superfast broadband. Its timescale is ahead of any other UK party and it is investing £600 million, precisely because the Tories have failed to deliver. I remind Mr Chapman that broadband is a reserved matter, so we did not need to make the investment. We are doing it in the interests of Scotland.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

The minister is refusing to admit that his target date of the end of 2021 for R100 is not going to happen. Is that not the modern-day equivalent of Monty Python’s dead parrot sketch? Is he really sticking to the end of 2021 as the target date?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

It used to be the Liberal Democrats who were the dead parrots in politics, but from Labour’s poll ratings, it is more likely to be the Labour Party now.

On the serious point that Mr Smyth raised, as I have explained to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee—[

Interruption

.]

If Mr Smyth will listen to my answer, he will hear that I have explained to the committee that we are in the depths of a procurement exercise that is governed by procurement law, and I cannot discuss the details of bids. I have committed to appear before the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee to discuss the matter as soon as I can—probably at the end of January—and to give the details that he and other members seek. We are not hiding from anything, but we have to see through the procurement process, which is governed by law.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Would it not be better for the minister to just come forward and say that the target is not going to be met by the end of 2021? He knows it. We know it. Everybody knows it. Why does he not just say it?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

As Mr Rumbles knows—because we have interacted in meetings of the committee itself on this point—I would dearly love to be more open about the future of the programme. He knows that I am governed by procurement law, and I have explained that at length to committee members.

The fact that I cannot give him the information that he seeks does not indicate a lack of respect to members of this chamber or the committee. I undertake to answer Mr Rumble’s committee questions and those of his colleagues when I get the opportunity. I can say to Mr Rumbles—because I know that he is concerned about this point—that we are committed to 100 per cent coverage and that I am confident that we will have a good outcome for the people of Scotland.