Rural Communities in Scotland: Broadband — [Mr George Howarth in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 22nd November 2017.

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Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk 9:30 am, 22nd November 2017

I will come to the USO shortly, and the hon. Gentleman might agree with some of the points I make, but first I want to make some progress.

Unlike what has happened in England and Wales, the Scottish Government have decided not to devolve further to local authorities the delivery of broadband. Instead, they have set up two delivery programmes, with the bulk of Scotland being covered by Digital Scotland. That means that the focus has inevitably been on the central belt and connecting the easier-to-reach cities and towns in order to meet the targets. That is yet another example of the central belt bias of the SNP Government in Edinburgh and of the centralising tendencies of the nationalists

I would like to look a bit more closely at how Digital Scotland has been performing and how it has been serving my constituents in the borders and people in other parts of Scotland. The problem that I come up against time and again is the lack of consistent information from Digital Scotland and the Scottish Government. Let me give colleagues just one example.

Colin from Foulden in Berwickshire first contacted me a few months ago, when trying to find out when improved broadband would be coming to his property. He moved into his house five years ago. Before finalising the purchase of it, he checked the broadband speeds on the BT website to find out when superfast broadband would be available. The website stated that for his landline and postcode, superfast broadband would be “coming soon”. Since then, he has been waiting patiently for his upgrade.

After Colin contacted me, I wrote to Digital Scotland, the Scottish Minister and my right hon. Friend the Minister in this debate to raise my constituent’s concerns. I received an email from the Scottish Minister in charge of broadband delivery, Fergus Ewing MSP, who said that fibre roll-out was planned for my constituent’s area. A month later, I received an email from Digital Scotland, also saying that there were plans to roll out fibre broadband. After I pushed for a more accurate date, I was told that my query had been passed to the policy team in Digital Scotland, who a month later responded that there were in fact no plans to upgrade my constituent’s broadband. Colin told me:

“I am left with the impression that nobody really knows what is going on.”

Sadly, across my constituency and, I suspect, many other constituencies, there are many people in Colin’s position. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister would agree that that is just wrong and cannot be allowed to continue.

The Scottish Government and Digital Scotland have dithered and delayed too long. Most superfast projects in the United Kingdom have already begun their phase 2 procurement. Digital Scotland has delayed the procurement process and is considerably behind other parts of the United Kingdom.