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Scheme to provide Highlands with superfast broadband labelled 'an expensive mistake' by MSP Edward Mountain


By Scott Maclennan

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A voucher scheme is the latest attempt to bring superfast broadband to the Highlands.
A voucher scheme is the latest attempt to bring superfast broadband to the Highlands.

A voucher scheme to provide superfast broadband for the north of Scotland will cost of tens of millions of pounds.

The Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme was announced by Holyrood’s connectivity minister Paul Wheelhouse.

It is supposed to replace the botched R100 scheme which now faces an uncertain future in the north despite being delivered in the central belt.

Mr Wheelhouse then faced questions on the issue at the rural economy and connectivity committee where he revealed that the huge cost of the vouchers is expected to range between £26 million to more than £50 million over five years.

The committee is led by Mr Mountain, who fears the SNP will not fulfil a campaign promise to deliver superfast broadband to the Highlands by 2021.

R100 was set up to deliver superfast internet to the 180,000 premises that still do not have it in Scotland, with the north disproportionately affected by poor connectivity with 100,000 people needing to get online.

The procurement process for R100 was hit by delays and an ongoing legal battle.

MSP Edward Mountain.
MSP Edward Mountain.

At the committee Mr Mountain asked Mr Wheelhouse: “If everyone applies for a voucher how much is it going to cost the Scottish Government?”

Mr Wheelhouse said: “We believe the overall cost estimate for the Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme as a whole is between £26.4 million and £50.7 million over a five-year period. That’s based on between 20 and 40 per cent take-up.”

When asked when the government should have issued the contract in order for the work to be completed in time, Mr Wheelhouse was unable to provide an answer.

Mr Mountain said: “It is clear that Scottish ministers were clueless as to when contracts would need to be issued to deliver R100 by the end of 2021. “The voucher scheme could cost over £50 million – that is an expensive mistake for failing to deliver R100 on time and as promised.”

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