Scotland target for superfast broadband by 2021 ‘difficult’

Scotland's public spending watchdog has warned the superfast broadband target will be 'difficult' to deliver. Picture: Rui Vieira/PA Wire
Scotland's public spending watchdog has warned the superfast broadband target will be 'difficult' to deliver. Picture: Rui Vieira/PA Wire
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Scotland’s public spending watchdog has warned that ministers’ pledge for superfast broadband coverage across the country by 2021 will be “difficult” to deliver.

An Auditor General report found further investment may be needed on top of the initial £600 million and highlighted a lack of clarity over how 100 per cent coverage of 30 megabit per second (Mb/s) speeds will be achieved.

The report praised the government for hitting its previous target to provide fibre broadband acess to 95 per cent of premises by the end of 2017, saying without public investment only two-thirds would have access.

Overall connection speeds have increased but around a quarter of rural areas cannot receive 10 Mb/s. Auditors found up to March 2018, the Scottish Government and Highlands and Island Enterprise (HIE) had paid £259 million to BT for broadband roll-out. Lower costs and higher take-up is expected to enable around 60,000 more premises to be reached than originally planned.

The report, prepared by Audit Scotland, recommends lessons are learned form the failure of the Community Broadband Scotland plan to deliver anticipated benefits for rural community broadband.

Just 13 of the 63 initiatives it helped finance were successful with a lack of specialist skills, poor communication and complex tendering requirements causing lengthy delays and failed procurements.

Community groups told auditors this has undermined their confidence in the Scottish Government and HIE to support rural broadband.

Further recommendations include publishing clear timescales by summer 2019 for the reaching 100 programme, establish clear contract management for the contracts and clear communication, especially for rural areas.

Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, said: “Our 100 per cent commitment is unmatched anywhere else in the UK.

“The report recognises it won’t be easy to deliver the commitment, but we have backed our commitment with a record £600 million (96.5% funding by Scottish Government) in initial funding for procurement of the Reaching 100 (or R100) percent programme and are currently in dialogue with three suppliers.”