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Digital connectivity focus at Islands group

Published: 24 Sep 2015 16:35

Tenth meeting of the Island Areas Ministerial Working Group.

The provision of robust digital and mobile connectivity within the island areas is a critical component in supporting economic development and helping deliver improved services in health care. This was a subject discussed at the 10th meeting of the Island Areas Ministerial Working Group held today (Thursday).

The meeting chaired by Islands Minister Derek Mackay included Leaders and Chief Executive of the three Island Councils as well Minister for Community Empowerment Marco Biagi and Minister for Land Reform Aileen McLeod.

The Working Group is part of the Scottish Government's commitment to the principle of local decision making, and the work we are taking forward with our island communities as part of the wider empowerment agenda.

The delivery by BT of the Highlands and Islands Enterprise Next Generation Broadband project is already bringing enhanced connectivity to the Islands and is expected to deliver coverage of at least 75 per cent to Orkney, 76 per cent for Shetland and 70 per cent to the Western Isles by the end of 2016. The overall coverage for Highlands and Islands will be 84 per cent or more.

To ensure equity of access to our islands it will be vital to ensure that the necessary technology that will ensure access to the hardest to reach areas is adopted and accessible.

Islands Minister Derek Mackay said:

"The appointment of an Islands Minister underlines the Scottish Government's commitment to ensuring the unique nature and needs of our island communities are championed at the heart of government.

"Empowering Scotland's Island Communities', published last year, demonstrated a strong partnership between our island communities and the Scottish Government, and I am keen to use that foundation to work with our island councils to deliver many of the commitments proposed.

"Every day we are building on the growing broadband infrastructure, reaching further into our rural and remote areas. Every forward step supports the Scottish Government's commitment to deliver first-rate connectivity in Scotland by 2020, ensuring we are a world class digital nation.

"Superfast broadband is being rolled out across Scotland with Scottish Government support, and we are more than halfway towards meeting out target under the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) Programme.

"We are committed to working in collaboration with industry to also improve mobile coverage in rural Scotland. This is underlined by our work on the Coll project, which launched in March and we are exploring how this model could be used to extend coverage to other mobile not-spots in Scotland.

"We will be exploring how we can extend the reach of digital connectivity at the Convention of the Highlands and Islands in Elgin on 5 October. We have brought together BT, the main mobile providers and public sector organisations to create a collaborative approach to improving coverage."

Leader of Comhairle nan EIlean Siar, Angus Campbell said:

"Digital connectivity is essential for economic development in island areas. Whilst good progress has been made there is still much to be done to ensure households and businesses in the Islands have access to the latest technology which provides a level playing field and that solutions are found so that all areas benefit."

Today's meeting also discussed progress with the devolution of the Crown Estate, Transport and plans for the upcoming Islands Bill consultation.