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UK government cash will help to plug the gap left by the botched rollout of the Scottish Government's R100 scheme

By Scott Maclennan

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MSP Edward Mountain.
MSP Edward Mountain.

Those struggling with poor connectivity will be able to access more funding after the slow implementation of the SNP’s superfast broadband R100 scheme.

Conservative MSP Edward Mountain has welcomed news that those in the north will be able to get UK government cash to augment a Scottish Government voucher scheme to access the internet in remote areas untouched by R100.

Originally due to be finished by the May Scottish elections, the contracts for R100 were only signed with BT in December – after what many are calling a botched procurement process.

Mr Mountain fears the delay means many Highlanders will not be able to access usable internet speeds until the second half of the decade, dealing a blow to business and the local economy.

Connectivity minister Paul Wheelhouse confirmed residents would be able to top-up the Scottish voucher scheme with UK funding to get their own internet connections installed.

This means homes could receive an extra £1500 and businesses £3500 from Westminster.

“This additional funding could really help those properties which were finding the cost of connecting to broadband unaffordable and just out of reach,” Mr Mountain said. “The pandemic has taught us how vital the internet is for doing business, working from home and staying in touch with family.

“However, it is deeply frustrating for many Highlanders that they are having to apply for vouchers when they were promised a full-fibre connection by 2021. This is yet another broken SNP promise to the Highlands.

“Broadband will not be rolled out in full until at least 2026 or 2027, given the SNP’s government has only just signed the procurement contract to deliver fibre broadband to the Highlands. The SNP’s dithering and delay has left our region without the vital infrastructure it needs right now.”

The Tory MSPs have savaged what they see as a litany of failure stemming from the tender process to the present, with the so-called "north lot" that includes the Highlands.

The SNP chose to put the Highlands, Argyll and Bute, Angus and Aberdeenshire along with the islands and Aberdeen and Dundee into one lot to win a contractor.

That is despite those areas having by far the toughest terrain for infrastructure development as well as the greatest demand for rural broadband, with an estimated 100,000 households or premises out of 180,000 nationally needing connectivity.

Mr Wheelhouse said: "Suppliers have also now been made aware of the link-up we have secured between the UK government’s Rural Gigabit Connectivity Programme vouchers (RGVS) and the SBVS vouchers since the launch of the SBVS on September 14, 2020, so there is no requirement for retrospective SBVS applications to be made.

"This enables these benefits from our £5,000 per premises voucher, under SBVS, to receive a top-up under RGVS of a further £3,500 for an SME business or £1,500 for a residential address."

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