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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says she is 'proud' to defend broadband programme despite 0.2 per cent of properties connected through the programme as Highland politicians hit out at the Scottish Government from all sides accusing it of 'failure after failure' and promises falling 'woefully short'

By Scott Maclennan

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says she would be “proud” to make the case for the Scottish Government’s broadband programme despite less than one per cent of properties connected through the programme.

The R100 (Reaching 100 per cent) has only reached 0.2 per cent of households or businesses currently not connected to superfast broadband in the north despite manifesto promises from 2017 saying it would be done by last year.

Audit Scotland issued a report in March on the issue and noted the difficulty of delivering R100 as well as how “reliable and future-proofed full fibre infrastructure is essential” to “allow the economy to grow and increase productivity.”

Speaking at the launch of the SNP’s Highland manifesto, Ms Sturgeon argued that it was down to Westminster “inaction” that forced the Scottish Government’s hand to take over the scheme with funding of £600 million.

“I'm proud to take the R100 progress to people on doorsteps across the country,” she said.

“This is actually a reserved matter and because of Westminster inaction, the Scottish Government stepped in with massive funding of £600 million pounds to deliver next generation broadband to every domestic and commercial premises across the country – that's what we are doing.

“It is the biggest, most complicated infrastructure project of this type given the geography or the topography of Scotland. There have been challenges and delays because of that along the way.

“We are providing vouchers to take account of these delays but we are, in a reserve matter delivering broadband to every part of Scotland and that is something we should be proud of and we should get out there and sell it.”

The voucher scheme referred to is stop-gap measure due to immense delays to R100 but it has fared little better after MSP Edward Mountain who claimed the two R100 voucher schemes have been “set-up to fail.”

He argued direct marketing to homes and businesses has only reached around 30,000 so far there but almost 85,000 are eligible for the main voucher.

On top of that, properties which cannot access the main fibre-to-the-premises element of R100 could also be unable to access the voucher scheme should their alternative means of securing internet access be less than 30Mbps, locking out huge swathes of rural Scotland from the scheme.

Mr Mountain said: “Now, the SNP have admitted that people can only claim their voucher if their alternative means of internet is 30Mbps or faster. That means thousands could be locked out of support which could improve their abysmal internet connections.

“Some improvement is better than no improvement, surely? Not according to the SNP and it is no wonder that there is such a poor take-up of the voucher schemes – they have been designed to fail from the start.

“Even the advertising for the vouchers has only reached 30,000 properties, which is way short of the 85,000 who are eligible across Scotland.Rural Scotland should not be left in the digital slow lane like this – they deserve better than failure after failure from the SNP Government.”

North MP Jamie Stone also slammed the SNP/Green Government’s performance over R100 after a parliamentary question from Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie about the voucher scheme.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes revealed that 10,316 homes and businesses are eligible for support in the Highlands but just 196 vouchers have led to installations and only 161 more vouchers have been issued.

That means just 1.9 per cent of properties eligible for a broadband scheme for hard-to-reach areas have been connected in Highland.

The veteran Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said: "Access to good quality internet is absolutely vital for people in our community, but for too long the Highlands has struggled along behind other parts of Scotland.

“I am disappointed but not surprised that so few properties in the North Highlands have been able to receive a voucher.

"We need to see the Scottish Government stepping up its work with this scheme as local people cannot afford to be left in limbo without access to good quality internet.

"Promises have been made for years that the SNP would get broadband sorted in the Highlands, but they have fallen woefully short."

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