In today’s draft Scottish budget, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Constitution Derek Mackay announced £600 million to complete the government’s R100 commitment to provide every house and business premise in Scotland with access to superfast broadband by 2021.
Initial procurement for the initiative begins today.
Mr Mackay said:
“The budget includes the first steps towards one of the most significant infrastructure projects in this parliament – superfast broadband for the whole of Scotland. At the end of this year we will achieve our target of delivering fibre internet access to at least 95% of premises.
As a result of our actions to date Scotland has experienced the fastest rate of progress of any part of the UK. But we want that progress to continue. Our new Reaching 100 programme is an ambitious plan to make superfast broadband available to every home and every business premise in every part of Scotland by 2021.
This commitment will position Scotland at the forefront of the digital revolution and is unmatched anywhere in the UK. I am therefore, delighted to confirm to parliament that the initial procurement for the Reaching 100 programme begins today. And that over the next four financial years it will be supported by investment of £600m.
Investment in skills and innovation, new technologies, manufacturing, infrastructure and broadband. These are all part of a package of measures to improve our productivity, boost our trade and make Scotland the most attractive place to do business.”
The announcement is a direct response to the ongoing debate and discussion over the rollout of broadband in Scotland between the governments in Westminster and Holyrood.
UK Digital Minister Matt Hancock has claimed that Scotland is lagging the rest of the country in terms of broadband, which has been strongly refuted by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Fergus Ewing, the minister with responsibility for connectivity. Mr Hancock has also claimed the Scottish government has been ‘playing politics’ and ‘dragging its feet’ by not starting the next phase of procurement.
Fergus Ewing, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Secretary said:
“This is the biggest public investment ever made in a UK broadband project. It is a truly transformative moment for our broadband infrastructure and a statement of our intent to make Scotland a world-class digital nation.
“Fast and reliable internet connection is vital for the economic and social wellbeing of all communities. This ambitious investment – which is more than three times what the UK Government is putting towards their own fibre broadband rollout – will revitalise the prospects of rural areas right across Scotland.
“Building on the success of the Digital Scotland programme, we will deliver a future-proofed, national fibre network that will place rural Scotland among the best connected places anywhere in Europe.
“I am confident that the scale of our investment, and of our ambition, will attract interest from a wide range of telecoms suppliers across the UK and Europe.”
Finance Secretary Derek Mackay added:
“I was pleased to use this year’s budget to set out our plans for the future of superfast broadband in Scotland. We will put in the money over the next four years to deliver a £600 million programme of investment, ensuring every home or business premise in Scotland has access to superfast broadband.”
DIGIT reached out to some of the country’s digital leaders for comment.
Polly Purvis the Chief Executive of ScotlandIS, the digital industry trade body, told DIGIT: “We’re pleased to see the Scottish Government continuing commitment to deliver super fast broadband to all of Scotland’s citizens. The need for universal broadband access is ever more imperative in today’s digital world so closing the gap for those areas of Scotland that don’t have access to connectivity is essential.”
Martyn Wallace, the Chief Digital Officer for Scotland’s Digital Office agreed: “It’s good to hear about the investment announced in The Scottish Budget. R100 will help give all of us in the public sector a platform to enable and accelerate digital public services.”
Gareth Lush, the Managing Director of Nice Digital, said: “There has been a lot of coverage in recent times on the digital economy and what it means to Scotland. Much of the press has been on the more headline grabbing innovations such as the many cool Scottish start-ups in sectors like Fintech. What many people forget is that the investment in digital infrastructure is critical not only to the digital industries but to every home and business across Scotland. So, it’s great to see the Scottish Government step up and make a significant investment in Scotland’s future with the R100 programme.
“Not only will this directly benefit thousands of homes and business, through improved access to digital services but it also makes Scotland very attractive for inward investment from companies who rely on a good broadband infrastructure.”
Danny Quinn, the Managing Director at DataVita, told DIGIT: “We were delighted to host Derek Mckay for a tour of Scotland’s only Tier III Datacentre to show him the backbone of the Scottish digital economy prior to his very welcome announcement of investment in Scotland’s digital connectivity. Today’s announcement is a fundamental step to ensure Scotland is at the forefront of the global digital economy.
Brendan Dick, Director of BT Scotland, summed it up, saying: “We’ve been open about our wish to participate in the R100 process and look forward to seeing the detail of the tenders.”
Mark Collins, Director of Strategy and Public Affairs at CityFibre, said: “It is great to see Holyrood investing in superfast infrastructure to ensure nobody is left behind as the digital age takes hold. However, as today’s announcement about Aberdeen City Council shows, towns and cities across the country are already working with alternative infrastructure builders like CityFibre to deliver even faster and more reliable full-fibre connectivity.
We look forward to learning more about this funding from the Scottish Government and understanding what it will deliver in terms of helping Scotland maximise its clear potential as a digital leader.”
Ricky Nicol, Chief Executive of Commsworld, said: “What the Scottish Government is doing is brilliant, far beyond the norm.
“Having previously had the opportunity to meet Fergus [Ewing] and his team and input our thoughts on Scotland’s digital infrastructure, it is very encouraging to see these reflected in the excellent initiatives from the Scottish government today and this investment will be a real boost that could really make a difference.
“It’s offering 30 Mbps, superfast broadband to every business and residential premises which is three times the 10 Mbps offered in England. This is even more incredible when you consider the terrain and logistics in Scotland. For example getting superfast broadband to places like Thurso.
“We will be working in partnership with the Scottish Government to offer advice as although 30 Mbps is incredible at the moment, and faster than most people have in their homes and offices, technology moves very quickly.
“So we’ll work with them to ensure Scotland stays at the forefront and cutting edge of the infrastructure landscape.”
Alongside the broadband announcement, the draft budget also proposed plans for £60 million investment in low-carbon energy, £1.2 billion for transport infrastructure and £20 million for the transition to electric vehicles.