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16 December 2016

Target budget broadband cash on rural firms and business parks

Reference number: SPUR1612

  • Scottish firms lag behind general population on connections
  • 40% of Scotland’s landmass still without mobile data, a quarter without voice signal

Scottish Government budget funds earmarked for superfast broadband should be targeted toward connecting rural firms and business parks, according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

New figures published today by Ofcom show that 72 per cent of Scottish firms can access superfast broadband, compared to 83 percent of all Scottish premises and 81 per cent of English firms.  The regulator highlights that many Scottish firms are in rural areas or in business parks, places that, to-date, have not been targeted for network upgrades.

Presenting yesterday’s draft budget Cabinet Secretary Derek Mackay outlined plans to commit more than £100million toward broadband and other digital infrastructure.

Andy Willox, the FSB’s Scottish policy convenor, said: “Availability of superfast broadband for smaller firms lags behind the overall population. This really isn’t good enough.

“Three quarters of Scottish firms say that digital technologies are essential or important to their plans for growth. To make the most of digital opportunities, firms need access to the right infrastructure and the right skills.

“The Scottish Government should lay out plans to specifically target smaller firms in rural Scotland, alongside efforts to ensure that our business parks are fit for the modern age.”

The Ofcom figures also show that 40% of Scotland’s landmass still doesn’t have a mobile data signal (e.g. 3G or 4G), and in a quarter of a country you still cannot make a mobile phone call. Consumers are unable to access mobile voice services from all four operators in approximately two thirds of Scotland's landmass

Andy Willox said: “These figures show that mobile coverage in Scotland is still unacceptably poor. While we see the Scottish Government laying out plans to try to address this problem, the UK government must step up. The consequences of this problem are disappointed tourists, missed sales and poorer productivity.”

FSB has written to the Scottish Government on their plans to update their digital strategy. The small business campaign group says reasonable progress has been made to improve Scotland’s digital capability, but the country is still far from being a world-leading digital nation – a key target for the Scottish Government. On some fronts, they argue, progress has been unacceptably slow.

The letter states: “Given the other hugely significant items on the Scottish Government’s agenda, it would be easy for ‘digital’ to become a second tier priority, and for the debate to be focussed exclusively on infrastructure. I would urge you not to let this happen – and to drive home the digital imperative across all government portfolios.”

The letter goes on to look at issues including digital skills, cyber security, digital public services and business regulation.