The Scottish Government has today committed to invest up to £85m over 10 years in order to support a new Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal (BIGD), which among other things will aim to improve fibre optic broadband and 4G mobile coverage in poorly served areas. The UK Government will also provide up to £260m.
At this stage the details remain somewhat vague, but the investment is expected to help fund economic development activity across a range of themes, including digital connectivity, tourism, regeneration and skills. The primary focus for all this will be around cross-border areas including Dumfries and Galloway, the Scottish Borders, Carlisle City, Cumbria County and Northumberland.
The specific projects and activities to be supported will be announced over the coming months, as part of a Heads of Terms agreement, although it’s already possible to find a rough outline of the deal’s ambitions on the Borders Partnership site.
Digital – Borderlands Investment Proposal
The proposal for Digital Borderlands has three strands of direct investment:
1.Complete super-fast broadband to properties that don’t yet have access
• The superfast strategy is for full fibre to future proof the network.
• Superfast cost rise exponentially which means innovative solutions will be required for the last 1%.
2. Deploy full-fibre broadband to critical strategic sites and market towns
• Designed to encourage the commercial provision of full fibre broadband, in particular to SMEs.
• Encourage innovative use of technology that takes advantage of 100Mbps + fibre services to increase productivity.
3.Extend 4G coverage further into remote rural areas
• Working with the Home Office to ensure the emergency service network extended area services are made commercially viable.
On top of that there’s also some general talk about supporting future 5G mobile pilots and fostering digital skills development, not least in order to help businesses and learners capitalise on the opportunities of the new infrastructure.
Michael Matheson, Scottish Infrastructure Secretary, said:
“I am delighted to confirm that the Scottish Government is investing up to £85 million in the Borderlands Deal to support and develop the South of Scotland economy.
Alongside the establishment of a new enterprise agency for the south of Scotland, and the activity being taken forward by the South of Scotland economic partnership, this investment will help to drive inclusive growth that delivers significant and lasting economic benefits for individuals, businesses and communities right across the region.
I call on the UK Government to match our financial commitment, over the same timescale of ten years, to deliver a package of transformational investment that will harness the region’s full economic potential.”
It’s widely anticipated that the UK’s Chancellor, Philip Hammond MP, will announce precisely how much funding Westminster will commit to the deal during today’s imminent Spring Statement 2019 (we’ve seen various estimates between £200m and £300m).
No doubt all of this will also help to support Scotland’s Reaching 100% (R100) programme, which has so far committed £600m in order to get as close as possible to universal coverage of 30Mbps+ “superfast broadband” coverage by the end of 2021 (here and here); March 2022 as a financial year.
Sadly we are still awaiting news of a supplier to deliver on the R100 pledge and there are already concerns that the Scottish Government may struggle, much like Wales recently did, in order to find an operator that can achieve their ambitions within such a short space of time. Either the roll-out will take longer, won’t reach as far or they’ll end up choosing a weaker technology in order to fill the hardest gaps.
The UK Government has just confirmed that it will commit £260m to the deal.