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Claim Highlands in danger of being left in 'digital stone age' by court case delaying rollout of superfast broadband

By Scott Maclennan

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Shadow finance secretary and Highlands MSP Donald Cameron.
Shadow finance secretary and Highlands MSP Donald Cameron.

The Highlands is at risk of losing out on access to superfast broadband if a court case over the contract tendering process is not resolved by the end of the year it has been claimed.

The R100 programme aims to roll out superfast internet connectivity across Scotland but has been beset by delays with the largest segment of the scheme – the £384m "north lot" covering the Highlands and Islands, Angus, Aberdeen and Dundee – worst hit.

Oxfordshire-based firm Gigabit has mounted a court action, objecting to BT Openreach being awarded preferred status to take the contract forward.

Scottish ministers now admit the case means the "north lot" could miss out on crucial European aid being relied on to underpin the scheme, with a cut-off date to access the funds of the end of the year.

A programme to roll out superfast broadband has hit another snag.
A programme to roll out superfast broadband has hit another snag.

Shadow finance secretary and Highlands MSP Donald Cameron said: “My region is facing an enormous challenge in recovering from the coronavirus pandemic and decent and reliable connectivity is indispensable to local residents and businesses who will lead our recovery.

“Unfortunately, as we have seen with the (Cal Mac) ferry fiasco, major infrastructure projects are not safe in the hands of SNP ministers.

"They need to get a firm grip on this project and ensure that it will be delivered no later than promised.

“It is intolerable that communities are at risk of being kept in a digital stone age because of disputes of this kind.”

Earlier, finance secretary and fellow Highland MSP Kate Forbes called for the UK government to invest more heavily in digital infrastructure in a bid to “kickstart the economy.”

The importance of good digital connectivity has been made even clearer by the Covid-19 outbreak and the susequent need for social distancing.

In the Highlands an NHS programme allowing consultations to take place online has been hampered by poor connectivity in some areas.

Many businesses are also unable to access online banking facilities at the same time as high street branch closures are becoming more common.

In 2018, rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing vowed to resign if the R100 target date of 2021 was missed.

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