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Edward Mountain: Rural areas shouldn't miss out on vital services such as full fibre broadband


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Holyrood Notebook by Edward Mountain

Edward Mountain is calling for rural areas to get full fibre broadband.
Edward Mountain is calling for rural areas to get full fibre broadband.

Many will remember that back in 2016 the SNP promised to deliver superfast broadband to the Highlands by 2021.

Indeed, Fergus Ewing was so confident that this promise could be met that in 2018 he boasted he would resign as a Cabinet Secretary if R100 was not delivered.

A few years have now passed, Fergus Ewing has lost his job in the SNP government and the delivery of R100 still continues to slip.

It was clear to me in the last session of parliament that the target of 2021 was unrealistic and that some rural communities would be left waiting with little to no internet until the late 2020s.

Having been accused of being a doom-monger, it now appears my worst fears are being realised. Prior to May’s election, the SNP promised to deliver R100 by 2026 but now they have started to slowly shift the goalposts again.

Recent reports have revealed that the rollout of R100 to the Highlands will not be completed until closer to 2027. I wouldn’t expect another SNP cabinet secretary to be so willing to bank their job on achieving this target either.

The SNP’s rollout has also suffered from so much dither and delay that once it is complete the technology of superfast broadband is likely to be out-of-date too. Families and businesses in the Highlands deserve better than this.

Our region clearly needs a solution that is future proof, which is why the Scottish Conservatives are calling for the delivery of full-fibre broadband. This has download speeds of 1000Mbps – vastly superior to the SNP’s superfast broadband pledge which only offers 30Mbps.

I am determined to ensure no rural communities are left behind or left out altogether when it comes to digital connectivity.

Broadband is not the only issue in the Highlands at present, where unavailability appears to be the norm, rather than the exception.

This is reflected in the current mental health crisis impacting the far north. Far too many people are still unable to access treatment due to a shortage of resources in NHS Highland.

Urgent action is required, and readers will be aware that I am leading a cross-party campaign with Rhoda Grant MSP and Jamie Stone MP on this matter.

We continue to call for a rural weighting in salary packages for mental health staff; assurances that the career paths of rural health practitioners can be protected; and support for NHS Highland to have a stock of ‘hired housing’ which can be tied to new mental health posts.

These practical ideas could help to increase our mental health workforce in the region. Whilst NHS Highland approved these proposals, we are still awaiting a detailed response from the SNP health secretary.

It is vital more progress is made to recruit more mental health professionals to the Highlands. Once it is, we must ensure that new recruits are embedded locally in GP practices rather than based centrally.

We must move away from the model of expecting patients to make long journeys for urgent help. The closer services are to rural communities, the swifter recoveries can be made and lives can be saved.

Measures which also enable the return of in-person meetings with GPs and mental health practitioners would also help patients feel far less isolated from support too.

Whether it’s improving access to local health services or digital infrastructure, I will continue to press for the Highlands to receive what it is due from the SNP government.

Living in remote and rural areas shouldn’t mean we are disconnected from the services we need in order to thrive.

MSP Edward Mountain.
MSP Edward Mountain.
  • Edward Mountain is a Highlands and Islands list MSP for the Scottish Conservatives.

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