THE SNP Government will struggle to deliver its pledge to provide every home and business with access to superfast broadband, the country’s spending watchdog has warned.

Audit Scotland said it would be “difficult” for ministers to deliver on their £600m Reaching 100 per cent (R100) pledge to offer all premises speeds of a least 30Mb/s by 2021.

It warned more money may need to be spent on the project, which is expected to cover 147,000 rural premises at an average cost of around £4000 each.

Contracts are not due to be awarded until early next year, and will still not cover a final 30,000 urban and 34,000 rural premises denied high speed connections.

It said ministers had yet to publish “timescales and full details” of how it would mop up these last premises.

It also reported a £6.4m government scheme run by Highlands & Islands Enterprise to encourage communities to set up their own local broadband schemes had been a flop.

Between 2012 and 2016, Community Broadband Scotland funded 63 projects, only 13 of which came to fruition, delivering high speed broadband to fewer than 2000 premises.

Audit Scotland said the scheme suffered from “a lack of specialist skills, poor communication and complex tendering requirements” which led to delays and failed procurements.

However the watchdog’s report, Superfast broadband for Scotland, also highlighted the SNP government’s success in providing access to 95% of all premises by the end of 2017.

This was achieved at a cost of £442m, with £100m coming from the UK government, £63m from the Scottish Government, £90mfrom councils and £126m from the contractor, BT.

Lower costs and higher take-up enabled around 60,000 more premises to be reached than originally planned under the deal, which saw BT paid £259m.

Audit Scotland recommended “robust contract management” in the next round of contracts, clear public timescales for R100 by summer 2019, and “realistic” delivery targets.

Connecting the remaining 5% of premises at a further cost of £600m under the forthcoming R100 contracts is seen as a crucial to Scottish economy and rural communities.

A case study of the village of Kinloch Rannoch in rural Perthshire included in the Audit Scotland report highlighted some of the problems caused by poor internet connections.

It reported families moving to bigger towns because children could not complete homework online, and businesses forced to drive 90 minutes to Perth to report data via government websites and being unable to expand in case more staff overloaded their broadband.

Fraser McKinlay, Audit Scotland's Director of Performance Audit and Best Value, said: "Fast, reliable internet access is now considered an essential part of everyday life.

"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."

North East LibDem MSP Mike Rumbles said that, despite SNP promises about internet speeds, progress on superfast broadband had been “glacial”.

He said: “After listening to ministers patting themselves on the back for six years, I want to see more action from the Scottish Government to target the areas worst affected. No more announcements, no more promises, just get on with the job.”

Tory MSP Jamie Greene added: “Audit Scotland’s report has confirmed the SNP is unlikely to reach its own broadband connectivity target which could cost businesses millions.

“The contracts for the R100 stage aren’t going to be awarded until next year at the earliest, casting doubts over the project’s timescale and budget.

“Scotland has fallen behind England in terms of access and speed, indeed it took the SNP nearly four years to even open the procurement process, let alone get a contract signed."

Labour MSP Colin Smyth said: “Scotland currently faces a digital divide with swathes of rural areas unable to access decent broadband.

"As this report exposes, the SNP’s roll out of fibre broadband has been a con for many communities, with a quarter of rural properties receiving super-slow broadband rather than super-fast.

"It’s clear the SNP simply do not have a strategy to deliver its spin of real 100 per cent coverage.

“Rural communities risk being left behind without urgent action from the SNP.”

SNP connectivity minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “We exceeded our 95% coverage target by the end of 2017 and our investment, alongside that of partners, has transformed the availability of broadband in rural Scotland.

"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 in initial funding for procurement of R100 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."