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27 July 2017

Small firms back £0.5 billion broadband investment

Reference number: SPUR2707

Scotland’s £0.5 billion broadband plan must be paired with a drive to improve the country’s digital capabilities, according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). 

The Scottish Government has committed to deliver a superfast connection - with download speeds of at least 30 Mbps - to every building in Scotland by 2021. A new consultation, closing at the end of this month, suggests that this programme will cost between £400 and £600m.

Figures from Ofcom show that 72 per cent of Scottish smaller firms could access superfast speeds in 2016 – compared to 55 per cent the year before. However, in England last year, 90 per cent of all premises could get a superfast connection.

In a letter to Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Connectivity, the small business campaign group applauded the administration’s commitment to invest in this digital infrastructure.

But, FSB warned that while this spending is necessary to ensure citizens, businesses and government make the most of new technologies, it isn’t sufficient to drive change.  

Stuart Mackinnon, FSB’s external affairs manager for Scotland, said: “The Scottish Government’s promise to connect every building in Scotland with superfast broadband is both inclusive and progressive. Tens of thousands of Scottish smaller firms should benefit, allowing them to use more devices, invest in cloud computing or video conference.

“Scottish firms, both large and small, as well as the public sector must recognise that this investment opens the door to new ways of operating.”

The small business campaign group has previously suggested funds from the apprenticeship levy in Scotland could be used to support the development of digital skills in Scotland’s workforce.

Stuart Mackinnon said: “Just like a sharp knife doesn’t make you a brilliant chef, a good broadband connection doesn’t transform a business. Scottish businesses need to look at how they do things – making appropriate investments in people, operations, technology and security.

“Similarly, if the country is to make the most of this infrastructure investment, we must look to make rapid progress on other fronts. We need to see improved Scottish digital public services and a nationwide drive to build digital skills at all levels.”

In the letter, FSB also suggests that a key measure of success for the project should be the satisfaction of the end-users – namely citizens and businesses. They suggest that payment to contractors should be made on this basis.

Stuart Mackinnon said: “While official figures show a steady progress in Scottish broadband infrastructure, too many business owners report problems with broadband services. The Scottish Government could use their spending power to push for progress in this area. After this investment, firms must end up with modern, reliable connections.”