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As the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work has made clear, it is extremely difficult for the Scottish Government to confirm its spending plans in the absence of a United Kingdom budget. We continue to press the UK Government for urgent clarification. That said, we are acutely aware of the economic potential of Scotland’s digital economy and that is why we will continue to invest heavily in digital infrastructure and skills and encourage investment in digital and data-driven innovation to improve outcomes in policy areas as diverse as health, education, climate change and economic development.
The Scottish National Party Government’s £600 million flagship R100 broadband scheme has been beset by delays in the north of Scotland and now faces legal challenge. Since the R100 policy was announced in 2017, the budget for digital economy has fallen dramatically, from £114 million to £32 million in last year’s budget. Will the minister commit to an increase in the digital economy budget to ensure that rural communities like mine do not fall further behind while his Government sorts out the issues, the contracts are signed and we see R100 starting to be delivered on the ground?
You are correct, Presiding Officer, that the matter is not part of my portfolio, but I am happy to comment on it.
As the member is, or should be, well aware, that is a reserved matter. Having said that, the Scottish Government has stepped in to roll out the R100 programme at our expense to fill the gaps left by the UK Government. We are proceeding faster with the roll-out of superfast broadband across Scotland than the UK Government is proceeding on that across the rest of the UK. I understand that my colleague Mr Wheelhouse will make a statement on the matter in the chamber tomorrow.
For businesses, our £1.6 million digital boost programme provides SMEs with advice and support in implementing new technologies, reskilling and trading online. The digital development loan makes £12 million-worth of interest-free loans available to SMEs to invest in implementing that advice.
The digitisation of SMEs is also an economic priority of the incoming European Commission, and we will work closely with our European Union partners to understand the most effective interventions for individuals.
In addition to the substantial digital provision through our colleges, universities and apprenticeship programme, we have recently established the £1 million digital start fund, which supports people on low incomes with the right aptitude to reskill into well-paid digital careers.
We have also invested £800,000, through Skills Development Scotland, in the digital skills investment plan and around £3 million in CodeClan that will deliver 800 highly skilled professionals to the Scottish economy.