Targets to deliver 100% coverage of superfast broadband in Scotland by 2021 came under threat today after the Minister for Rural Economy and Connectivity refused to acknowledge the total cost of the programme and failed to confirm the amount of Scottish Government funding available to deliver it.
Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband has been responsible for the roll out of 30mps coverage for 95% of the country by 2018. Earlier today civil servants admitted, however, that the Scottish Government had only contributed £60 million (15%) to the project so far, with a further £340 million coming from commercial operators, the UK Government and local authorities.
The Minister’s aid also suggested, in a meeting of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, that delivering the Scottish Government’s 100% coverage commitment could cost more than Ofcom’s £250 million estimate. Highlands & Islands Enterprise have highlighted that the bill for the region alone could rise to £400 million.
In the chamber today, during a session of General Questions, North East MSP Mike Rumbles quizzed the Minister on the cost and timetable for the programme.
Mr Rumbles said: “I asked the Minister two very simple questions today, how much will it cost and, if he does not know, when can he tell us. Given this has been a SNP promise for the past two elections it was a surprise that his answer was don’t know and sometime next year.
“The Minister was clearly uncomfortable when the subject of funding came up. He told committee this morning that the Scottish Government had contributed the ‘lion’s share’, it turns out that is around fifteen percent of the total investment.
“It has cost £400 million to deliver the first stage of the project, coving easily accessible and urban areas. It only seems reasonable that it will cost a lot more to deliver to rural and remote areas, like Aberdeenshire and Angus. The Minister knows this as well as anyone.
“It is clear that the Scottish Government is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the public by making this election pledge knowing full well that they will struggle to meet it. Perhaps Nicola Sturgeon intends to leave the Minister to the wolves and write the project off as another bungle when the time comes.
“Very simply, the Minister needs to inform Parliament how much these funds are and that he has it available.”