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13 September 2018

(S5F-02580) Roadside Mobile Connectivity

4. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the First Minister what discussions the Scottish Government has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding reports that an estimated 1,000 miles of roads in Scotland have no mobile phone signal. (S5F-02580)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon): Mobile telecommunications are a reserved matter and it is therefore the responsibility of the UK Government to improve coverage. It is worth pointing out that the UK Government’s failed mobile infrastructure project promised 84 masts to cover not-spots but managed to deliver a grand total of three. However, at his recent meeting with the UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Michael Matheson raised the issue of roadside mobile connectivity. We have particularly pressed for progress to be made on the Home Office’s emergency services mobile communications programme, which has been beset by delays. We await confirmation of the proposed approach to delivery.

Because we cannot wait for Westminster to deliver decent mobile connectivity in rural Scotland, we have created our own mobile infrastructure plan, committing £25 million to improving 4G coverage. We recently awarded a contract for the programme and the supplier is working towards delivery of the initial 16 sites in remote parts of Scotland.

Stewart Stevenson: I welcome the £25 million that the Scottish Government has put into improving mobile telephony in Scotland. However, as we know, the UK Government has little understanding of and less interest in Scotland, so is it now time for responsibility for mobile telephony and the associated funding to be completely devolved?

The First Minister: Yes, absolutely. A pattern that sometimes emerges when matters are reserved—we have just been talking about welfare—is that, when the UK Government does not get its act together and fails to deliver, the Scottish Government has to step in and do Westminster’s job for it. That has been true with aspects of welfare and it is now true for mobile connectivity. It is about time that we cut out the middle man in all this and devolved these powers to Scotland so that we can get on with it ourselves.

Stewart Stevenson
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