Superfast Broadband (Orkney)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 9th December 2021.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

4. To ask the Scottish Government what progress is being made on the roll-out of superfast broadband in Orkney. (S6O-00517)

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

Work is under way through the reaching 100 per cent north contract to bring subsea cables to Eday, Flotta, Hoy, Rousay, Sanday, Shapinsay and Stronsay, with survey work now complete and build currently scheduled to begin next summer, weather conditions permitting.

In the meantime, the reaching 100 per cent Scottish broadband voucher scheme will ensure that anyone on Orkney can access superfast broadband. We recently announced a three-month extension to the interim voucher portion of the scheme—the closing date is now 31 March 2022—to ensure that everybody, particularly those in the north of Scotland and on our islands, can have more time to take advantage of that scheme.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I thank the cabinet secretary for her response and for her willingness to meet me, Orkney Islands Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise over the summer to discuss how 100 per cent broadband coverage might be achieved in the islands that I represent. From those discussions, she will recall concerns that the proposed fibre roll-out will leave unconnected many households and settlements in Orkney and that the voucher schemes risk being too piecemeal to plug the gaps. What progress has been made in identifying ways to allow local co-ordination of the resources that are needed to ensure that every household in Orkney gets access to the superfast broadband that has been promised?

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

I thank the member for that question and for his constructive engagement in two meetings that I have had this year with him and with officials from Orkney Islands Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Presiding Officer, going into minute detail would probably take longer than you would like. However, now that we have certainty over what the R100 north contract will deliver, we are keen to work strategically with Orkney Islands Council and with suppliers—around 70 are currently registered to deliver superfast broadband services through the scheme—to ensure that we maximise the reach of the scheme as far as possible. I am happy to look in more detail at any specific issues that are raised.

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

Will the cabinet secretary confirm that the number of premises that will be reached by 2026 under the lot 1 contract has fallen by more than a third? Will she further confirm, as her Government appears to be giving both dates, whether the target for delivery of lot 1 has been delayed from the end of this year to the end of the 2026 calendar year or to the end of the 2026-27 financial year?

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

This is a good opportunity to remind the member that telecoms and broadband are reserved to the United Kingdom Government, but that the Scottish Government has stepped in to deliver the reaching 100 per cent programme because of failure to date.

As of 2 December 2021, superfast coverage in the Orkney Islands stands at 66 per cent—up from 11 per cent in 2014. The £384 million R100 north contract is expected to deliver 59,276 connections in total. Build is expected to be completed by 2026-27.