Orkney's MSP, Liam McArthur, has criticised the Scottish Government's superfast broadband interim voucher scheme (IVS) after it was revealed that households in the North have received less in broadband vouchers than those in the South and Central regions.
A freedom of information request published by the Scottish Government reveals that as of 11 February 2022, the following amounts had been issued to properties in each of the R100 'Lots' to provide interim vouchers worth up to £400:
Lot 1 (North) = £35,597.79
Lot 2 (Central) = £78,393.60
Lot 3 (South) = £80,775.92
At the same time, however, the government has revealed 350 households in the North have applied for the IVS, compared to 313 in Central and 329 in South. It is estimated that there are currently 67,650 households in the North eligible to apply for the interim voucher, compared to 37,273 in Central and 19,133 in South.
As part of the Reaching 100 (R100) programme, the interim voucher scheme allows remote and rural homes and businesses across Scotland to apply for a subsidy of up to £400 towards their broadband connection. It is available to all homes and businesses with speeds less than 30Mbps that are due to be connected by the R100 contracts or a commercial supplier after 2021. However, the scheme is due to end on 31 March 2022.
Responding, Mr McArthur said:
"We know that the Scottish Government's superfast broadband rollout is years behind schedule. It's also clear that it will fall far short of reaching 100% of premises across Scotland, particularly here in the islands.
"The voucher scheme was supposed to help 'plug the gaps' but these figures demonstrate that it is simply not fit for purpose.
"The north region has twice and four times the number of eligible households as the central and south regions respectively. It has also seen more applications for vouchers, yet the amount paid out to households in the north is less than half what has been paid out to the other two regions.
"This makes a mockery of the idea that the Scottish Government is prioritising communities with the poorest broadband.
"With the interim voucher scheme due to end on 31 March, many Orkney households will be left without access to a high-speed broadband service for some time to come. If Ministers are serious about delivering on their promises, they need to target resources where they are most urgently needed and allow more localised solutions to plugging the gaps."