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War of Words Erupts Between Scottish and UK Ministers over Broadband Funding

Posted: 22nd Aug, 2011 By: MarkJ
scotland uk regions mapmichael-moore-in-meeting.jpgThe UK Secretary of State for Scotland and Scottish MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, Michael Moore (LibDem), has rebuffed last week's criticism by the Scottish Government of Westminster's funding allocation (£68.8m) for improved regional internet access services by telling everybody to "cheer up for goodness' sake".

£68.8m is Scotland's slice of the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) budget (i.e. £530m until 2015), which aims to ensure that 90% of "people in each local authority area" can access a superfast broadband (25Mbps+) ISP service by 2015 (the remaining 10% will only get a minimum speed of 2Mbps).

Michael Moore MP said:

"The Scottish Government needs to be more upbeat. It takes a rather sour outlook to turn nearly £70 million into a setback. Cheer up for goodness' sake and get on with delivering the improvements to our rural communities.

Instead of looking for the negative, they should step up and meet the challenge of matching UK Government investment in broadband for our rural communities.

If they do that, we can move towards achieving the target of 90% of Scottish premises having superfast broadband - and everyone having access to at least 2Mbps - by 2015. If they don't invest then they will be failing Scotland's rural communities and businesses."

Meanwhile Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Investment, Alex Neil, whom last week described the funding as having "fallen short of the expectations of the Scottish economy" (here), was quick to respond.

Alex Neil retorted:

"We do find it funny that Mr Moore, as Secretary of State for Scotland, appears unaware that this funding allocation doesn't reflect the fact that Scotland has a third of the UK landmass and some of the most remote areas in these islands."

Scotland's own national digital strategy estimated earlier this year (here) that over £200m would be needed to do the job, although the UK Treasury's Barnett Formula suggests that Scotland actually got £25m more than it should of done. It should be said that there is still scope for additional EU funding and match-funding with private sector investment will also help to meet some of the shortfall.

The Barnett Formula is a method for adjusting the amounts of public expenditure that can be allocated between different parts of the UK. It's used as a way of allocating additional or reduced finance based on population (and not need). But in the case of broadband and rural needs, Barnett's formula somewhat misses the point.
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