The Chancellor announced £95 million for 13 successful areas in the first wave of the Challenge Fund in the Spring Statement today (Tues 13 March).
Local businesses will have the opportunity to benefit directly from the challenge fund, as a proportion will provide around 150 vouchers to the value of £3000, aimed at encouraging businesses to adopt higher speed connectivity.
The objective of the bid is to provide a local access full fibre network to provide Gigabit capable open access to public sector sites.
The five public sector partners are: The Highland Council, National Health Service (NHS) Highland, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).
Leader of The Highland Council, Cllr Margaret Davidson said: “I am very pleased that we have been successful with our partners in securing this welcome funding for full fibre networks. It will go a considerable way to helping us meet the challenges of improving digital connectivity in one of the largest government regions in Europe and in helping to meet our aspirations to become a region of Digital Opportunity.”
The Local Full Fibre Network project for Inverness, Fort William, Wick and Thurso aims to increase:
- full fibre footprint in the most northerly and largest mainland local authority area in UK;
- the economic viability and capacity of the area by increasing productivity, efficiency and innovation; and
- the number of business seeking to invest in, locate to and remain in the region.
It also aims to encourage service innovation and stimulate greater commercial investment in the region, create the capacity for the provision of better digital services to customers and increase digital inclusion.
Cllr Davidson added: “A Gigabit voucher scheme will be launched and targeted at small and medium enterprises working in key development areas that complement the Public Sector with a view to stimulating business connectivity and encouraging providers to invest in the region. This is a really exciting opportunity for Highland and I encourage SMEs to watch this space.”
Stuart Robertson, HIE’s Director of Digital, said: “With around 80% of homes and businesses across Highland having access to superfast broadband, this is another important step in making sure we have connectivity we need. Availability of ultrafast speeds will be of huge benefit to our business community.”
The expectation is that following due diligence the projects will deliver full fibre networks before the end of the Financial Year 2020/2021. Highland is the only area in Scotland to secure funding in this round. See the detail of successful areas here