Last night the Scottish National Party (Pàrtaidh Nàiseanta na h-Alba) finally published details of their 2019 Manifesto for the 12th December UK General Election, which largely reiterates their £600m Reaching 100% (R100) “superfast broadband” rollout project and promises to continue campaigning for more funding from Westminster.
As a quick recap. BT (Openreach) has just won the full contract for the Scottish Government’s R100 programme (here), which originally aspired to make “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) ISP networks available to “every single premises in Scotland” by the end of 2021 (here).
Sadly R100 is currently running a year behind schedule and few expect it to achieve the aforementioned ambition on-time. Perhaps unsurprisingly the SNP’s manifesto has thus removed any mention of 2021 and fails to offer a new date, although in fairness Openreach will need to spend a few months conducting engineering surveys before we can be sure of the exact rollout plan.
Otherwise their manifesto continues the SNP’s familiar demands for more investment from Westerminster for broadband and mobile, although their claim that “only the SNP is committed to providing access to superfast broadband to every home and business in Scotland” seems to ignore PM Boris Johnson’s proposed £5bn investment, which aims to make “gigabit-capable broadband” available to every UK home by the end of 2025.
SNP – Boosting Infrastructure and Investment
Investment in modern physical and digital infrastructure is vital to a thriving, productive economy in the 21st Century. In Government, the SNP has recognised this through the National Infrastructure Mission which will see an additional £7 billion invested in Scotland over the period to 2026.
The creation of the Scottish National Investment Bank will provide £2 billion of long term, patient capital to businesses and infrastructure projects that will help transform the Scottish economy and reduce our carbon emissions.
To ensure public projects serve the public interest we are currently conducting work on the establishment of a National Infrastructure Company – an idea that puts fair working conditions at the heart of public infrastructure projects.
To build on the work of the Scottish Government, SNP MPs will push for an increase in the capital borrowing limits that restrict our ability to invest in infrastructure and grow our economy. We will also demand that Scotland gets a fair share of any investment by the British Business Bank and that it works closely with the Scottish National Investment Bank.
We will also press the UK Government to invest in digital connectivity including superfast broadband and 5G technology. Since 2013, we have increased broadband to 95% of premises across Scotland, on time and on budget. Now only the SNP is committed to providing access to superfast broadband to every home and business in Scotland, investing £600 million towards this, with the UK Government providing just £21 million of that.
SNP MPs will press for Scotland to get its fair share of the £5 billion UK Government funding to roll out gigabit broadband to the hardest to reach areas. We will call on the Shared Rural Network to deliver 95% 4G mobile coverage in Scotland – as applies for the rest of the UK. And we will press for the current review into the UK Telecoms Supply Chain to be concluded promptly .
SNP MPs will work to bridge the digital divide to improve the availability and affordability of broadband and mobile services. We will press the UK Government to reclassify the internet as an essential service and support affordable housing providers to make the service available. We will also work with broadband and mobile service providers to make more affordable tariffs and packages more widely available – and call for the UK Government to legislate for a social tariff.
If the UK leaves the EU, SNP MPs will monitor the impact of voluntary free roaming arrangements for mobile phone use in the EU. We will press for legislation to protect Scottish and UK consumers should these break down.
In fairness, despite its delays, the Scottish Government’s £600m R100 project is of a good size and their decision to introduce a 10 year relief on business rates for new fibre (twice as long as in England) is commendable. We should also point out that broadband is technically devolved to Westminster and so some would argue that they’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty.
However the proof will be in the pudding and we’re extremely interested to see just how far the contract with BT will be able to push “full fibre” into rural areas. Alternatively they could suffer the same problem as the Welsh Government, which struggled to offer a big enough subsidy to attract Openreach to build in some of the most remote areas where the costs quickly spiral away from economic viability.
We’d also be very surprised if the R100 project didn’t include some kind of community fund or voucher programme like we’ve seen elsewhere (this is widely expected to be part of their plan), although none of this is mentioned above.