Scottish minister criticises UK government broadband rollout for leaving hardest-to-connect places to last

Written by Ruaraidh Gilmour on 24 June 2022 in News

Finance secretary Kate Forbes claims that implementation in Scotland has begun with remote and rural areas

Credit: Jorge Guillen from Pixabay 

The Scottish Government cannot keep “picking up the tab” on connecting the most challenging parts of Scotland to gigabit-speed broadband, a minister has claimed.  

Scotland’s secretary for finance and the economy, Kate Forbes, this week updated Holyrood’s Economy and Fair Work Committee on the work being done to deliver superfast WiFi connectivity to areas that are deemed difficult. Forbes criticised the UK government's approach to £5bn Project Gigabit, which aims to provide gigabit-speed broadband to every UK home. The Scottish finance minister she said that the approach south of the border risks worsening digital inequality between perceived harder and easier areas.

Scotland’s approach, R100, has been quite different, according to Forbes: “We start with the hardest first, working backwards, rather than do what Project Gigabit is doing, which is the cheapest, commercially easy, first. Of the £600m investment into R100, £384m has been allocated to the north of Scotland, which is considered to have some of the most difficult places to install superfast broadband.”  

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Forbes said: “Quite clearly all of us have an interest in connecting the hardest to reach areas. If it costs more than £7,000 per property, we need to complete that job, but having invested £600m already from the Scottish Government’s budget into a reserved issue we simply cannot keep picking up the tab.”

The installation of underwater fibre optic cables by Openreach is underway that aims to bring high-speed internet to 15 of Scotland’s islands.  

Homeowners can apply for a grant of up to £5,000 on the Scottish broadband voucher scheme. As of the start of June only 2,200 grants had been delivered to Scots, while another 1,000 applications had been made.   

When Forbes was asked by Alexander Burnett MSP on the lack of uptake so far, she said: “I do not have an answer for its unattractiveness. There is no significant reason given either anecdotally, or through feedback as to why it was not taken up by more people.”  

On the topic of 4G infill mast programme, Robert McGhee, deputy director of digital connectivity for the Scottish Government told the committee that as well as the 28 constructed under the plan, there are “20 towers being built” – exceeding the government’s target of putting in place 45 new towers.


About the author

Ruaraidh Gilmour is a reporter at PublicTechnology sister publication Holyrood, where this story first appeared. He tweets as @Ruaraidh0.


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