Scottish election 2021: £200m investment will end 'digital divide', says Kate Forbes

Hundreds of thousands of Scots who are digitally excluded will be given devices, data and be trained in how to use them in a £200 million manifesto pledge by the SNP.

Around 300,000 households – estimated to include 800,000 people – would be brought into the Connecting Scotland programme and given equipment as well as wifi and data to ensure they can get online.

The scheme, which was initially established to provide support to 9,000 people at clinical risk from Covid to get online to access services as well as tackle social isolation and loneliness, has already been expanded through a £48m investment to take in 23,000 families with children, young care leavers, and 5,000 socially isolated older and disabled people.

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The new manifesto commitment also comes on top of a previous pledge to ensure every school pupil in Scotland has a laptop, tablet or other device.

Kate Forbes has said the SNP will invest £200m to close the "digital divide".

Kate Forbes, the SNP government's finance and digital secretary, said: “The pandemic has highlighted that being online is a vital service. From keeping in touch with our loved ones to accessing the news and information, to support with study or employment opportunities.

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“The Connecting Scotland programme is one of the most comprehensive national programmes aimed at tackling digital exclusion in the world. I am delighted that we have already been able to support 37,000 people to get online by providing them with a device, data, training and skills and are set to reach 60,000 by the end of the year.

"I am excited that we will significantly expand this to everyone who is not online and who wants to be connected. We will invest £200m to support up to 300,000 households to get devices, data and skills through expansion of the Connecting Scotland programme over the next Parliament and end the digital divide in Scotland."

The Connecting Scotland programme works with the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations and all 32 Scottish councils, as well as other third and public sector organisations and as well as supplying devices, the scheme offers training and support by “digital champions” to the 20 per cent of digitally excluded households who have little or no online skills.

Responding to the SNP pledge, Scottish Liberal Democrat rural broadband spokesperson Alan Reid said: "Ministers have announced delay after delay to the R100 project, which was supposed to be delivering superfast broadband to homes in Scotland. They should get no credit for belatedly trying to fix the problems they themselves created.

"In the 2016 election the SNP promised to deliver 100 per cent superfast broadband coverage for Scotland during the 2016-2021 Parliament. They failed utterly. Thousands of homes in rural and remote communities have been let down by this Scottish Government. We will make sure that the work for the islands and remote parts of the mainland is not left until last.”

Scottish Conservative infrastructure spokesman Graham Simpson added: "This reheated policy exposes a tired SNP which is out of ideas. Voters will rightly treat this latest big promise with suspicion after the SNP failed to deliver on their 2016 manifesto promise of superfast broadband to every home in Scotland by this year.

"Only by voting Scottish Conservative can we have a parliament fully focused on critical infrastructure projects like this.”

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