Superfast Broadband (Highlands and Islands)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 11th December 2019.

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Photo of Donald Cameron Donald Cameron Conservative

7. To ask the Scottish Government whether 100 per cent of homes and businesses in the Highlands and Islands will be able to access superfast broadband by 2021. (S5O-03913)

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

We remain committed to meeting our target of 100 per cent superfast coverage and will award R100 programme contracts as soon as possible.

We have confirmed BT plc as the preferred bidder for all three geographic lots and the procurement process is progressing as expected. Delivery timescales will be confirmed as soon as possible, once the contracts are in place.

Photo of Donald Cameron Donald Cameron Conservative

Last week,

The Herald revealed that the Scottish Government procurement document suggested that the delivery of the R100 programme could take as long as four or even five years to complete. Given that the Scottish Government has made an explicit commitment to deliver superfast broadband by 2021, will the minister take the opportunity to apologise to rural communities in the Highlands and Islands for the abject failure of the Government to deliver on its promise?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

It is a bit rich to listen to the Conservative Party complain about the provision of digital broadband coverage in Scotland, given that the matter is solely reserved to the United Kingdom Government. Had it not been for the actions of this Government, which stepped in to take on the failure of the Conservative Government at a UK level, we would not have had the significant increase in coverage that we have already achieved in Scotland. We have gone from coverage of 19 per cent in 2014 to 93 per cent right across the country as a result of the decisive actions of this Government. That is the action of a Government that is determined to ensure that we get the right type of digital infrastructure in Scotland. Had we not taken that action, we would probably still be at 19 per cent coverage and waiting for the Conservative Government in London to do something about it.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I assure the cabinet secretary that the level of coverage in Orkney falls far short of 93 per cent.

Given the Government’s earlier commitments to an outside-in approach, will the cabinet secretary offer an assurance that if there is any slippage in the delivery of the contract, it will not penalise the communities that have been waiting longest for the delivery of superfast broadband?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I am sure that Liam McArthur welcomes the decisive action that this Government has taken with the digital Scotland superfast broadband programme to improve coverage right around the country. In 2014, the coverage in the Orkney area was 11.1 per cent. As a result of the actions that this and other Governments have taken, coverage is now at 65.2 per cent. We are seeing significant improvement in digital connectivity as a result of those measures. Of course, during the Liberal Democrats’ time in coalition Government, they had an opportunity to do something about coverage and, as ever, they failed to do so. That is why this Government is taking those actions.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Given that the UK Government is responsible for internet access, will the cabinet secretary confirm that the UK Government’s financial contribution to the R100 programme is less than 10 per cent of the overall cost?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

We are investing some £600 million in the R100 programme. I can confirm that the UK Government is contributing less than 10 per cent, despite the fact that it is a reserved area. That demonstrates, as ever, that the Tories never put Scotland first and always let down the Scottish people when it comes to taking necessary action. That is why this Government, having spent almost £400 million on the DSSB programme, is putting in another £600 million to pick up the mess that has been left by the Conservative UK Government.