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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:49 am on 22nd November 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport 10:49 am, 22nd November 2017

The Scottish Government got more than their fair share because they had a higher proportion needing supported rather than commercial access.

Until now, the Scottish Government have been happy to take the credit when things have gone right, but pass the buck when things have gone wrong—we saw more attempts at that this morning—so I am going to set out what has been going on. In 2014, we gave the Scottish Government more than £20 million for phase 2 of their superfast roll-out. Three years later, they have not only failed to sign that contract, but have not even opened the procurement yet. The Scottish Government are three years behind the fastest English local authorities in contracting for their roll-out.

In fact, Scotland is behind every single English local authority, behind the Welsh Government, behind Northern Ireland in getting going on phase 2 of its broadband roll-out. My own county of Suffolk, for example, has not only contracted phase 2; it has already contracted phase 3. There is a similar story in most other parts of the country—but not in Scotland. Worse, the Scottish Government project will not have contracts signed until the end of next year, which will be after the roll-out of phase 1 has finished, so they risk broadband delivery companies downing tools after completing phase 1 of the project, before phase 2 is ready to go. Elsewhere in the country, they got phase 2 going before the end of phase 1.

It is a great cause for regret that the Scottish Government have for more than three years sat on £20 million of UK taxpayers’ money, which could have been used to deliver broadband for the people of Scotland. Brendan O'Hara raised the question of that £20 million. We offered it in 2014. A further £60 million is being returned from the first contract because of the level of take-up in phase 1, and another £14.5 million from underspending on that contract, and £30 million from city deals. In total, there is £125 million of UK taxpayers’ money waiting to be spent in Scotland—waiting for the Scottish Government to get on with it. So you can see why we and the people of Scotland are rightly frustrated at the Scottish Government dragging their feet.

Throughout the process, BDUK has offered technical support and assistance to Digital Scotland to try to get things going, but it seems that the Scottish Government’s fixation with pipe dreams of independence has distracted them from the job of delivering to the people they are meant to serve. It is part of a pattern.

As a result of our experience of delivering superfast broadband through the Scottish Government thus far, we have decided that for the next generation of broadband technology—full fibre—we will instead deal directly with local authorities across Scotland, as we do in England. We have already had a fantastic response, and I am looking forward to going to Aberdeenshire next week to see their pilot of a local full-fibre network project and to see progress on a test bed for 5G. I look forward to working constructively with Digital Scotland to deliver on the next steps of the superfast project and with local authorities across Scotland to deliver the next generation of technology that is coming rapidly.