You’re off­line! SNP forced to hand over broad­band roll-out

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Femail - By Gareth Rose SCOT­TISH PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR

THE UK Govern­ment has de­liv­ered a re­buke to Scot­tish min­is­ters for fail­ing to in­tro­duce su­per­fast broad­band across the coun­try.

Now, amid a cross-Bor­der row, the Scot­tish Govern­ment is to be stripped of re­spon­si­bil­ity for rolling out high-speed broad­band.

Mil­lions of pounds will in­stead be handed to Scot­tish coun­cils to carry out the work.

Matt Han­cock, UK Min­is­ter for dig­i­tal, yes­ter­day blamed the SNP’s ob­ses­sion with in­de­pen­dence for dis­tract­ing it from de­liv­er­ing bet­ter con­nec­tions in ru­ral areas.

A pi­lot scheme will now be launched with Aberdeen­shire Coun­cil given re­spon­si­bil­ity to de­liver im­proved broad­band.

Mr Han­cock said: ‘It’s a clas­sic ex­am­ple of them con­cen­trat­ing so much on con­sti­tu­tional is­sues that they don’t con­cen­trate on im­prov­ing the lives of the peo­ple of Scot­land.

‘It’s deeply frus­trat­ing that the roll-out in Scot­land has been slower than ev­ery­where else. Peo­ple run­ning busi­nesses or try­ing to live in the modern world have found their lives more dif­fi­cult as a re­sult.’

The Scot­tish Govern­ment had promised su­per­fast broad­band by 2020, but then put this back to 2021.

Au­dit Scot­land warned there was still a ‘lot of work to be done’ when it re­ported on the tar­get last year, and a Holy­rood com­mit­tee is in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether the govern­ment has in­vested enough money in the roll-out.

Mr Han­cock said the Scot­tish Govern­ment had yet to use £21 mil­lion pro­vided to fund the roll-out in hard to reach areas. He said: ‘The Scot­tish Govern­ment has failed. It’s got £21 mil­lion of UK tax­pay­ers’ money sit­ting on its books since at least 2014, and has been drag­ging its feet.’

He added: ‘So, with the next gen­er­a­tion of roll-out, we have de­cided to go through Scot­tish coun­cils in­stead, be­cause we are so fed up with the per­for­mance of the Scot­tish Govern­ment. This is not po­lit­i­cal. It is just about the com­pe­tence of the Scot­tish Govern­ment.’

A spokes­woman for Fer­gus Ewing, Ru­ral Econ­omy and Con­nec­tiv­ity Sec­re­tary, said: ‘These claims are in­ac­cu­rate and en­tirely with­out any ba­sis in fact. It ap­pears Mr Han­cock ei­ther doesn’t know what’s hap­pen­ing in Scot­land or doesn’t care.

‘If the UK Govern­ment had been left in charge Scot­land’s dig­i­tal broad­band rates would still be only 66 per cent and there would be no dig­i­tal su­per­fast broad­band on our islands or vast parts of the High­lands at all.

‘Scot­land is the only part of the UK with a clear com­mit­ment to de­liver 100 per cent su­per­fast broad­band by the end of 2021 and it is only be­cause of Scot­tish Govern­ment work on the Dig­i­tal Scot­land Su­per­fast Broad­band pro­gramme that 95 per cent of prop­er­ties will have ac­cess to fi­bre broad­band by the end of 2017, a po­si­tion and a timetable agreed by Mr Han­cock’s own depart­ment.’

The UK Govern­ment has now set aside £1.1 bil­lion – which will fo­cus on get­ting fi­bres di­rect to premises.

It is Scot­land’s share of this money which now looks set to go di­rect to coun­cils rather than the govern­ment.

Au­dit Scot­land is plan­ning a fol­low-up in­spec­tion of the Scot­tish Govern­ment’s progress in rolling out su­per­fast.

‘Scot­tish govern­ment has been drag­ging its feet ’

SLOW SER­VICE: Scot­land is miss­ing out on su­per­fast in­ter­net

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