Scottish Government’s flagship broadband project delayed before it has even started

The Scottish Government’s R100 broadband programme has already run in to delays, the Minister in charge of it has admitted.

Responding to questions from Borders MP John Lamont, the Scottish Government has today admitted that contracts have not been awarded yet, despite previous promises that this would happen in 2018.

Announced in 2017, the R100 programme seeks to connect harder to reach parts of Scotland to superfast broadband. Consulting on the plans, the Scottish Government said: “The intention is to award a contract during 2018.”

This was then pushed back to March 2019, which according to Audit Scotland was “to allow bidders more time to prepare their bids.”

After a number of constituents had asked when R100 would be up and running, local MP John Lamont wrote to the Scottish Government to clarify whether the final bids had been received and when contracts would be awarded. The response, which took a month to produce and was unfinished, confirmed that the bidding process was still ongoing and that contracts would be awarded at some time in 2019.

Last year, the Cabinet Secretary in charge of connectivity, Fergus Ewing MSP pledged to quit if the R100 programme targets were missed.

Despite promising to spend £600m on the R100 programme over the up to 2021, the Digital Connectivity budget is being cut from £36.7m to £32.9m next year.

Commenting, John Lamont MP said: “There has been radio silence from the Scottish Government on broadband in recent months, so I am not hugely surprised that the R100 programme is already delayed.

“Given the Cabinet Secretary in charge said he would stand down if the programme was late, I would have thought he would want to keep on top of things.

“Since it was announced, the R100 programme has been touted as the solution for everyone in the Borders who has an issue with their broadband. Now we learn the project hasn’t even started, is already months behind schedule and that no money has been actually set aside for it yet.

“The UK Government has provided more funding per head to Scotland than any other part of the UK to deliver better broadband, but the Scottish Government have let people in rural areas down. It is hugely frustrating for too many people that we are still lagging behind the rest of the UK. It is a complete nonsense in this day and age that nearly one in five people in the Borders do not have access to decent broadband.”

 

On 19th February, John Lamont MP wrote the following letter to the First Minister:

While I fully understand the need to maintain commercial confidentiality, I have two very general questions.

Have all the bids for the R100 programme been received yet and if not, when do you expect that to happen?

When do you expect the entirety of the R100 programme contracts to be awarded by?

 

The response, received on 20th March from Minister for Connectivity, Paul Wheelhouse MSP is attached, it read:

Thank you for your letter of 19 February 2019 to the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in relation to progress on the Scottish Government’s Reaching 100% (R100) Programme. As the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, I have been asked to respond on her behalf.

The procurement process for R100 is now well underway and I can confirm that we have three highly credible bidders currently engaged in dialogue. The procurement process is, however, complex and tightly bound by law and procurement rules. I will of course advise the Scottish Parliament first when we are in a position to award the contract, but I can confirm that this is anticipated during 2019.

I trust this information is of use to you. I am sorry that I cannot be … [sic] on the details at this stage, but will endeavour to make sure all MSP’s [sic] and MP’s [sic] are kept well informed of details as they emerge.

Speaking to the Scottish Land & Estates conference Fergus Ewing MSP said:

“If I don’t deliver this by 2021, I think it will be time for Fergus Ewing to depart and do something else, and leave the job to somebody else. But I can assure you, we’re on the case.”

See: https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/16256789.farming-would-disappear-from-large-parts-of-scotland-under-post-brexit-plans/