Wheelhouse attacked after admitting third broadband delay
Little progress: Paul Wheelhouse admitted delays (pic: Terry Murden)
Scotland’s small firms have accused government ministers of leaving the country in the “digital slow lane” after failing to hit broadband targets.
The Scottish Government confirmed that it would not be providing universal superfast broadband to domestic and non-domestic premises by the end of 2021 as pledged.
Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse, revealed that the government’s plan to deliver superfast broadband to all premises (R100) is significantly behind schedule. It is the third delay to the project announced since the promise was made in 2016.
Business groups and opposition politicians said the situation was “deeply disappointing.”
Mr Wheelhouse’s predecessor Fergus Ewing claimed he would step down if the R100 programme was not completed by 2021.
Andrew McRae, FSB’s Scotland policy chairman, said: “Scottish broadband infrastructure has improved dramatically over the last few years. But that’s of little comfort to any independent Scottish business that continues to waste time or miss opportunities due to poor connectivity.
“When everyone from the banks to the taxman expects all businesses to have good broadband, this new delay will be bitterly disappointing for many businesses still stuck in the digital slow lane. A new voucher scheme might plug some gaps, but that’s not what firms thought they were promised. At the very least Ministers must deliver on these revised timescales.”
Labour said the statement made it clear that the programme will not be complete in South and Central Scotland until after 2023 with no estimated completion date for the North of Scotland.
Scottish Labour spokesman for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity Colin Smyth, said: “The announcement that the SNP Government was never, ever going to deliver its R100 programme by the end of 2021 is the worst kept secret.
Superfast broadband is no luxury. The ability to have quick and easy access to the internet is a necessity in the modern world– Colin Smyth, Labour
“It is deeply disappointing for the people of Scotland, particularly those in the North of the country who have been given no indication as to when they can expect access to superfast broadband”
“Superfast broadband is no luxury. The ability to have quick and easy access to the internet is a necessity in the modern world, particularly for those in rural areas from the Highlands to the Borders.
“The delay to the completion of the R100 programme risks holding back rural communities and hampering economic growth in areas already disadvantaged, widening Scotland’s digital divide.”
Scottish LibDems spokesman Mike Rumbles pointed out that the Scottish Government claimed it had been a significant contributor to the work that has already been carried out through the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme.
However, Scottish Government spending only racked up 16% of the total £412 million invested by the UK Government, Local Authorities and Highland’s & Islands Enterprise.
Mr Rumbles said: “The minister is delusional if he thinks people will buy his statement today. This is the third time Ministers have announced a delay to the project and it is still the case that not a single penny of R100 funding has been spent delivering superfast broadband to homes in Scotland.
“The Scottish Government’s progress to deliver this 2016 election promise has been nothing but glacial and it is now clear that they had no intention of trying to deliver the programme on time.
“This commitment is now being replaced with a ‘voucher’ scheme. So instead of getting the service by the end of 2021 they will receive a piece of paper instead. What people want to know is when they will be connected not when they will receive a voucher.
“Ministers have utterly failed to do what they said they would do and thousands of homes in rural and remote communities have been let down by this Scottish Government.”