THE Scottish Government’s plans to provide fibre broadband access to 95% of premises in Scotland have been achieved but reaching the final 5% will be its toughest hurdle, according to the public spending watchdog.

A report today from the Auditor General said that up to the end of March, £259 million had been paid to BT for broadband roll-out and lower costs, along with higher take-up, is expected to enable around 60,000 more premises to be reached than originally planned. It said overall speeds have increased across Scotland, but rural homes and offices still lag behind urban areas.

The “Reaching 100 per cent” programme says every home and business will have access to superfast broadband – 30 Mb/s or more – by 2021. The Scottish Government committed to delivering superfast broadband to around 147,000 premises with an initial investment of £600m, but further funding may be required to reach all locations.

The report recommends lessons are learned from the Community Broadband Scotland plan’s failure to deliver its anticipated benefits.

Just 13 of the 63 initiatives it helped finance were successful and community groups told auditors this has undermined their confidence in the Scottish Government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to support rural broadband.

Fraser McKinlay, Audit Scotland’s director of performance audit and best value, said: “Good progress has been made to date but the toughest hurdle remains – to extend the benefits to everyone, particularly remote and rural communities.

“As well as being the toughest hurdle, it is not yet clear how the Scottish Government is going to fulfil its pledge to deliver superfast broadband to everyone by the end of 2021.”

Energy, Connectivity and Islands Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, welcomed the report, and added: “Our 100% commitment is unmatched anywhere else in the UK. The report recognises it won’t be easy to deliver the commitment, but we have backed our commitment with a record £600m (96.5% funding by Scottish Government) in initial funding for procurement of the Reaching 100 (or R100) percent programme and are currently in dialogue with three suppliers.

“We expect to award the contracts in 2019 and remain confident that delivery of these, alongside other interventions, will allow the target to be met.”