An SNP Government minister says she “refuses to accept” the slow roll-out of superfast broadband across the north lies with the Scottish Government.
The Reaching 100 (R100) programme, which was announced by the SNP Government in 2017, has been dogged by delays.
The roll-out was due to be complete by the end of 2021 but it emerged earlier this year the northern part of the programme would not be finished until 2026.
The Press and Journal revealed this month that the scheme could be delayed further until the end of the 2026-27 financial year.
Douglas Lumsden, north-east MSP, quizzed rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon on how “abandoned communities” would be compensated for the six-year delay of the R100 programme.
I simply refuse to accept that assertion that’s been made.”
– Mairi Gougeon
In his question to Ms Gougeon in the Scottish Parliament, Mr Lumsden said: “Non-delivery of the R100 programme in the north and rural Scotland is seriously hindering businesses, communities and the delivery of NHS care while increasing rural inequalities.
“It recently emerged in the Press and Journal that the roll-out has slipped again to the end of the 2026-27 financial year.
“How is this government going to compensate our rural communities for the six-year broadband delay that they have caused?”
In response, Ms Gougeon said she refused to accept the failings and instead lay the blame with the UK Government who have powers over broadband regulation.
She told Mr Lumsden: “Sorry but I simply refuse to accept that assertion that’s been made when this is a reserved area and the Scottish Government has gone above and beyond to pay for the roll-out of this infrastructure.
“A job that should have been done – and an investment that should have been made – by the UK Government, so I don’t recognise that at all.”
Mr Lumsden later said Ms Gougeon “needs to face the facts of how utterly shambolic the roll-out of the SNP’s R100 programme has been”.
He added: “Having superfast broadband is now a distant dream for the majority of people in the north-east and her response was a kick in the teeth for those who are depending on this.
“Rural communities are severely lagging behind and the north east has once again been pushed to the side in favour of the central belt – an all-too-common occurrence under this Scottish Government.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said earlier this month that the “vast majority” of the work in the north of the country will be completed by the end of 2026 but would not comment on the reason for the possible slip in timeline to 2027.
Delivered by OpenReach, on behalf of BT, the project ultimately aims to make superfast broadband available across the country.
A bidding war between BT and Gigaclear, which BT won, was blamed as the cause for the initial delay for the northern scheme.
UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed in last month’s budget that £8 million will be set aside to deliver full fibre broadband to 3,600 premises in Scotland, including Aberdeenshire, Angus, the Highlands, Moray and Perth and Kinross.
A new agreement between the UK and Scottish governments means these homes and businesses, which were due to be upgraded to superfast broadband as part of the Scottish Government’s R100 programme, will gain access to even faster broadband.
The UK Government could not be reached for comment.