OPENREACH CALLS FOR SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT TO PRIORITISE DIGITAL ECONOMY

Openreach chief executive Clive Selley is encouraging the Scottish Government to prioritise investment in the digital economy during recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking at the quarterly meeting of the Openreach Scotland board, he echoed calls by the Committee on Climate Change to focus on broadband over investment in more traditional forms of connectivity, like the road network.

In its response to the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Economic Recovery, Openreach argues that Scotland must sustain investment in its digital infrastructure, coupled with a strong programme to get those not using digital online, and help those who are online to exploit digital communication as effectively as possible.

Glasgow business leader Stuart Patrick, briefing the Board on the Glasgow City Strategy, heard that the digital sector stands ready to help city firms back to work as lockdown restrictions begin to ease.

Internet traffic carried across Openreach’s Scottish network has increased by 70 per cent during the weeks of the lockdown, with the country consuming a record 97 Petabytes1 of data in the last week.

Openreach has continued broadband network upgrades in places like Bearsden, Halfway, Giffnock, Baillieston and Kilmarnock during the lockdown, where it’s been safe to build.

Openreach chief executive Clive Selley, a member of the Scotland board, said: “Connectivity has served as a crucial lifeline during the lockdown, helping to keep people working and the economy moving, and supporting public services. It’s going to be even more important in helping to rebuild and grow the economy.

“Full fibre will be transformational, boosting Scotland’s economy by £4.5bn, cutting carbon emissions from commuting and helping 37,000 more people to access employment. It will also reduce the transport and housing pressure in Scottish cities and level-up rural and local economies.

“We’re still on track to bring the next generation of ultra-reliable, futureproof, full-fibre broadband technology to 4.5 million UK homes by the end of March next year, and we’re currently considering further investment in Scotland to help us go beyond this. But to turbocharge the build, the industry needs better and faster planning, access and roadworks rules.

“At this time of unparalleled challenge, businesses, government and industry must work together to bolster Scotland’s digital resilience and bring about the changes needed for a sustainable recovery.”

Stuart Patrick, chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, said: “In order to emerge from this crisis and to future proof our services and economy, we must develop innovative ways of working and living. Digital connectivity has allowed the economy to function in the last few weeks as people work and run their businesses from home.

“We must continue to capitalise on it as we enter recovery mode. Digitalisation can help businesses to innovate and refocus their business models, reach new audiences and support skills and employment opportunities.”

More than 2.6m Scottish premises can currently access fibre-based broadband services over the Openreach network, with take-up of the faster services available sitting at around 50 per cent.

Openreach is upgrading the UK to a full fibre platform and has recently increased its targets to reach 4.5m UK premises by the end of March 2021, and to 20m premises by the mid-to-late 2020s, including a significant build in rural areas, given the right environment for investment.