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Highland superfast broadband rollout unlikely to be delivered until 2027, says MSP


By Ali Morrison

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The Scottish Government says it is taking additional steps to provide superfast access to some of the hardest-to-reach places.
The Scottish Government says it is taking additional steps to provide superfast access to some of the hardest-to-reach places.

Highlands and Islands politician Edward Mountain says it seems increasingly likely the rollout of superfast broadband to north communities won’t be delivered until 2027.

The Conservative MSP raised the issue during a virtual session of the Scottish Parliament's Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.

The transport, infrastructure and connectivity secretary, Michael Matheson, admitted that a timescale for the delivery of superfast broadband to the Highlands remained unavailable, despite the Scottish Government having a signed a £384 million contract late last year to deliver the project.

BT has been contracted to deliver all of the R100 contracts, with Openreach beginning survey work in the north lot area.

Mr Mountain said: “I cannot believe a contract of that size wasn’t signed without timescales within it.”

He said delivery of the R100 (Reaching 100 per cent) programme to the Highlands had been promised by 2021 but that would not happen as the contract had only been signed in December 2020.

During the committee session, he pressed the cabinet secretary for the completion date for the rollout of superfast broadband across the Highlands and the north of Scotland.

Highlands and Islands MSP Edward Mountain.
Highlands and Islands MSP Edward Mountain.

Mr Mountain said: “The contract for the lot one was £384 million, so we are told. You must have agreed a timescale when you signed up to that sort of expenditure on when it would be delivered.

"Could you tell me when it will be delivered so we can see when that £384 million will be expended out of the budget?"

Mr Matheson replied: “There are some elements around the timescale which we can’t set out exactly at the present moment for the reasons of the planning work that’s being taken forward by Openreach."

He added: “What I would be more than happy to do is to come back to the committee with further details on that once we have been able to get greater clarity from the contractors over the course of the next couple of months.”

Mr Mountain, who accused the Scottish Government of "dithering on the procurement process", said later: “This all but confirms that the rollout of superfast broadband to Highland communities won’t be delivered until 2027.”

Announcing the signing of the north lot contract in December, connectivity minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “The role of digital connectivity in our everyday lives has never been clearer as we tackle the pandemic, and the contract signature for the north lot, involving funding of £384 million, marks a significant step towards ensuring our 100 per cent commitment is delivered across Scotland, including to some of our most remote and rural communities.

"Scotland has some of the most challenging locations anywhere in Europe for providing telecoms infrastructure and we are taking additional steps to provide superfast access to some of the hardest-to-reach areas."


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