The UK Government Minister in charge of broadband, Matt Hancock MP yesterday (Monday 27th November) paid a visit to the Borders to discuss the lack of progress in connecting rural properties and businesses to superfast broadband.
The visit came after local MP John Lamont called on the UK Government to work more closely with councils in Scotland to deliver on superfast broadband, following years of failure by the Scottish Government and Digital Scotland. The call came in a Westminster Hall debate led by John Lamont MP on Wednesday 22nd November.
Recent Ofgem figures show that in rural Scotland fewer than half of homes have access to superfast broadband. This is significantly worse than any other rural part of the UK, worse than rural Wales (57%), rural Northern Ireland (52%) and rural England (62%).
The UK Government has now confirmed that for the next generation of superfast broadband technology, full fibre, they will work directly with local authorities in Scotland.
The meeting took place at the home of John Williams, a constituent from near Heriot. Matt Hancock MP met with local residents and councillors Mark Rowley and Euan Jardine to discuss the importance of broadband to rural areas and what could be done to speed up connectivity.
Speaking after the visit, John Lamont MP said: “The Scottish Government is behind every single local authority in England in terms of rolling out broadband to rural areas. They have sat on more than £20 million of UK Government funding for three years. And while they like to talk about their commitment to improve broadband, a year after setting the target to connect 100 per cent of properties by 2021, they have done nothing.
“In short, they have had their chance and blown it.
“Given this failure, the UK Government is right to go straight to local authorities for the delivery of next generation of full fibre broadband.
“I was delighted to host the Minister in charge of broadband, Matt Hancock in the Borders so he could hear himself about the frustration residents and businesses feel with the lack of progress.”
Councillor Mark Rowley added: “Communities across the Scottish Borders are struggling with poor connectivity and the lack of decent broadband in some areas is holding the region back. It is increasingly clear that adequate broadband is not reaching many rural communities.
“Having been at the back of the queue for the current Digital Scotland roll-out we want to see solutions delivered to rural areas quickly, so we welcome the Minister's commitment to work directly with Councils to deliver local solutions.”
Councillor Euan Jardine said: “It was great to have the UK Minister in the Borders. Although Galashiels is relatively well connected, the rural parts of my ward are woefully behind.
“This reflects how the Scottish Government have approached the issue. While our towns and those properties which are easily connected have been, rural villages are not getting the service they need and deserve.”