THE critical role of digital connectivity in the Scottish economy was catapulted into the spotlight as the pandemic unfolded, and much of Scotland’s business is still being conducted remotely.

However, while the Scottish Government R100 – Reaching 100 per cent – digital programme has helped many, it has come under criticism for not doing enough soon enough to boost connectivity for homes and firms in some parts of the country.

The claim comes as its pledge to deliver 30Mbps to every home and business by the end of 2021 is already breached, with Paul Wheelhouse, the then Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, revealing in questions last month that some parts of Scotland will not reach the mark until 2026.

HeraldScotland: Special Series, Day One: Anger over connectivity funding delays.Special Series, Day One: Anger over connectivity funding delays.

The bombshell was followed by offers of stop-gap funding of £400 and £5,000 but it is claimed these have been delayed and are inadequate by one community development group so far thwarted in its bid to set up efficient business and home connectivity in the Highlands.

The Scottish Government said it is still open to community approaches and that funding hold-ups should be resolved by “summer”. While it says 95% premises have reached the target, the Government has not broken down how the percentage for businesses, which last year was 94% for domestic and 83% for commercial premises, looks this year.

READ MORE: Glasgow gets closer to gigabit ambitions

Pery Zakeri, of the Moray-based Finderne Development Trust, said interim vouchers have not been released immediately and while properties are added to the R100 build "those that are fortunate enough to be in the build plan are getting access to interim vouchers but it is not happening quickly enough and it is late in the day".

HeraldScotland: Pery Zakeri set up in a field to make a point over the Scottish Government position.Pery Zakeri set up in a field to make a point over the Scottish Government position.

She said: “Our community members are now waiting to find out whether they are in or out of the R100.

“If they are in then they will benefit from an interim voucher ad be able to get finance or a temporary solution until the end of this year and if they’re not within the scope then they are stuck with a main voucher for £5,000 which is really going to do very little in terms of providing a long term quality solution.

“That is the position we are in and it is shared with many rural communities, it is not just Finderne.

“It (R100) was a massive promise that the Scottish Government made to people.”

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Stuart Mackinnon, of the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, said: “While the Scottish Government’s R100 programme has improved broadband coverage, it really hasn’t delivered the universal connectivity promised. And the UK Government’s most recent programmes to improve mobile data coverage across the UK haven’t yet delivered at scale.

“We’ve really no firm idea at this stage what share of workers that have worked from home during this crisis will end up doing so when we return to normal. But if more rural areas can attract highly paid workers to their communities, then that could inject new life into these local economies.”

READ MORE: Digital drive will be key to recovery

The £384 million R100 North of Scotland lot was signed with BT in December “ensuring that some of Scotland's most remote and rural island communities will benefit from superfast broadband, with more than 85% of the build in the North lot area being in the form of gigabit speed fibre to the premises technology”, a Scottish Government spokesperson said.

“While contract build plans are being finalised to account for further commercial build, homes and businesses currently unable to access superfast broadband are currently eligible for the Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme; offering up to £5,000 to obtain a broadband connection.

“This currently includes a number of premises in Finderne. Once the updated list of premises receiving build under the R100 North lot contract is finalised with BT, we will then be able to offer the £400 interim voucher to those for whom R100 build will be delivered later than December 2021,” the spokesperson said.

Tomorrow: Connecting Scottish island businesses.