An accelerated broadband investment programme could bring thousands of jobs and improve digital connectivity across the north-east and Highlands, according to Scottish Labour leadership hopeful Monica Lennon.
Outlining her proposals to ‘Re-connect Scotland’, Ms Lennon said her plan could deliver 23,000 jobs over two years and dramatically speed up the rollout of full fibre broadband across Scotland.
The plan, which has been backed by the Communications Workers Union, would see increased investment of £600 million in broadband.
The Scottish Labour MSP said the scheme will “tackle digital exclusion and create jobs in the north-east and the Highlands” – areas that have long been dogged by slow broadband speeds.
The Scottish Government signed a £384m contract with BT in December to deliver the Reaching 100% (R100) broadband programme in the north of Scotland in December, with work to begin this year.
However, the project has been hit by significant delays following a legal challenge, now concluded, and the target to deliver superfast broadband to every home and business by 2021 will not be met.
Ms Lennon said: “The SNP Government has been too slow on broadband, missing its own targets for the rollout of superfast broadband and allowing our infrastructure to lag behind world leaders.
“That’s why, as Scottish Labour leader, I will push for increased investment in broadband to re-connect Scotland – creating new, green jobs at the same time as tackling digital exclusion.
“We have a huge job ahead of us in the aftermath of the pandemic to boost our economy, and my plan to invest in jobs for the future will help achieve that.
“In this new era of home working and learning, we need a Scotland where every business and family has instant access to high-speed internet – my broadband investment plan, backed by communications workers, will tackle digital exclusion and create jobs in the north-east and the Highlands in the process.”
The Scottish Labour leadership hopeful said accelerating investment in the rollout of fibre by 2025 could deliver more than £4.6 billion to the Scottish economy by delivering productivity improvements, innovation and high-skilled jobs to Scotland.
Ms Lennon and Anas Sarwar are vying for leadership of the party and ballots opened on Monday.
Party members and those affiliated through a union have until February 26 to cast their vote and the winner will be announced the following day.
Scottish Government Connectivity Minister Paul Wheelhouse said the Scottish Government is taking action where UK ministers have not, adding they have not provided clarity on the timing of funding for Scotland.
He added: “Our £579 million investment in the Reaching 100% (R100) programmes builds on the success of the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband rollout and is currently the biggest public sector investment in broadband in the UK.
“We are the only government in the UK committed to providing access to superfast broadband for every home and business in our country.”