Study from The Federation of Small Businesses urges Holyrood and Westminster to ‘bury the hatchet’
The Scottish and UK governments need to the “bury the hatchet” and start working together on broadband, The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has said.
In a new report on how poor broadband and mobile connectivity hinders smaller firms, Lost Connection, the FSB urges the Scottish Government and UK government to develop a memorandum of understanding on the development and deployment of digital infrastructure.
The call comes as FSB research reveals that a greater proportion of businesses north of the border are dissatisfied with their broadband service than in the UK as a whole.
An FSB survey work found that 38% of Scottish businesses felt their broadband speeds were insufficient for their current business needs, compared to 33% of businesses across the UK.
Almost half of Scottish firms – 47% – didn’t think their broadband would be good enough for their future needs, compared to 40% across the UK.
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Thirty per cent of small businesses in Scotland receive download speeds of less than 10Mps, rising to 39% in rural areas, while 45% have unreliable voice connectivity, rising to 57% in rural areas.
The FSB is also urging the UK government to take action on mobile phone coverage, with Ofcom figures showing that only 41% of the country receives 4G coverage from all network operators.
FSB Scotland’s policy chair Andrew McRae said: “Most people in Scotland care more about the speed and reliability of their telecoms service, than whether industry, the Scottish Government or the UK Government facilitated the connection. That why we’re urging ministers in Edinburgh and London to bury the hatchet on broadband and mobile. Local businesses, like many citizens, get frustrated when politicians point the finger rather than work together, that’s why we’re suggesting a new telecoms agreement to put aside historic disputes.”
Disagreement arose between the two governments over the approach and timetabling to increasing broadband coverage in Scotland.
A House of Commons Scottish Affairs Select Committee report on broadband and digital published last year also recommend that the Scottish and UK governments “take steps to improve their relationship on broadband delivery and find ways to effectively work together”.
The committee also recommended that the UK government increase its contribution to Reaching 100% (R100), the programme to reach the final 5% of Scotland that does not yet have a superfast broadband connectivity.
The Scottish Government has committed £579m, or 96.5 per cent, of the total cost of R100, even though broadband is reserved to Westminster, while the UK Government will contribute £21m, or 3.5 per cent, of the cost.
The FSB is also urging the Scottish Government to publish a revised timetable for the completion of the R100 programme as soon as possible.
The programme, which was due to be completed in 2021, has been delayed, with contracts not yet finalised with the companies that will carry out the work.
Last week the Scottish Government announced that BT had been confirmed as the only bidder for two of the three areas, central and south, in the R100 programme.
More than one bid had been received for the north and a preferred bidder is yet to be confirmed.
Further details will be announced when the contracts are signed later this year.
Scottish connectivity minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “Our £600 million R100 programme is a vital investment in Scotland’s infrastructure, given that the UK-wide telecommunications market has failed to deliver coverage to large areas of Scotland. Our commitment is despite regulation and legislation for telecommunications being reserved matters that are the responsibility of UK ministers and this commitment is unmatched anywhere else in the UK.
He added: “It will help to deliver a future-proofed superfast broadband network, making Scotland one of the best-connected places anywhere in Europe. I am pleased that good progress on tender evaluation has been made and look forward to the process being completed, and contracts signed by the end of the year.”
Andrew McRae said: “The Scottish Government has the right ambition – delivering universal superfast broadband will help build the capacity of firms and the economic strength of local communities.
“But firms need a solid timetable setting out when their enhanced connectivity will be delivered, as they need to make decisions now about whether their current premises meet their business needs. Ministers must provide this detail by the end of this year.”