THE SNP appears set to break its manifesto promise for a £600m roll-out of superfast broadband to rural areas after confirming a delay to the key procurement stage.

The Scottish Government conspicuously failed to restate its ambition to deliver 100 per cent access to 30Mbps internet to Scotland’s most remote communities by the end of 2021.

It puts pressure on Rural Secretary Fergus Ewing, who last year said he would quit if the date was missed.

He told Scottish Land and Estates’ annual conference: “If I don’t deliver this by 2021, I think it will be time for Fergus Ewing to depart and do something else, and leave the job to somebody else. But I can assure you, we’re on the case.”

Opposition parties demanded answers on the Reaching 100 per cent programme (R100), warning the original timescale now appeared impossible to meet.

The government used a parliamentary answer to reveal squabbles between bidders for the work and revised plans had delayed the contract signing from spring to the end of 2019.

The Tories said the SNP was leaving rural communities at a significant disadvantage.

Tory MSP Jamie Greene said: “This is a damning revelation that the Scottish Government’s flagship r100 will not be delivered on schedule.

“Far from being nearing completion we are now learning that the contracts won’t even be in place until sometime in 2020.

“The SNP asked the UK Government for the powers and funding to rollout superfast broadband, but then over-promised and under delivered, leaving our remote and rural communities at a significant disadvantage.

“In an attempt to outmanoeuvre Westminster the SNP Government ended up outmanoeuvring itself; whilst superfast broadband is being rolled out to communities in England and Wales, people in Scotland are being left behind.”

Labour’s Rhoda Grant added: “The Scottish Government have had ample time to plan, but have sat on their hands and blamed the UK Government - so with the addition of these delays, many people across the country are likely to be left behind for too long.

“In remote rural areas, digital connectivity is vital to a decent quality of life.

“Any delay to providing superfast broadband to 100% of the population means leaving people behind. The Scottish Government should stop hiding behind the detail and come clean.”

LibDem Mike Rumbles said: “The Scottish Government has had over four years to iron-out the details of how it plans to deliver the SNP’s election promise of 100% access to superfast broadband. Announcing yet another delay to the bidding process at this stage, with only 30 months of the programme remaining, shows complete incompetence and no appreciation for the thousands of homes that still cannot access even the most basic internet speeds.

“Despite all the warm words, the Scottish Government’s direct investment into broadband has been a drop in the ocean compared to other investors such as BDUK, local authorities, HIE and commercial operators. Ministers now have to admit that they have failed to deliver on their promises and get to work delivering the improvements that they have been talking about for over five years.”

Connectivity Minister Paul Wheelhouse said the revised procurement process would deliver the best possible value and benefit for Scotland.

“We have therefore designed a procurement process to achieve this. Key to this is a highly competitive process that will deliver on our commitment to provide access to superfast broadband to every home and business in Scotland.

“We have therefore provided the bidders with the extension they sought, giving them more time to remodel their solutions, in line with changes to the intervention area that arose from the decisions of UK Ministers on the use of Gainshare resources. Our actions will see the procurement timeline extended, with the appointment of a preferred bidder or bidders anticipated by the end of September and contracts signed by the end of the year.

“Despite broadband being a reserved matter, the Scottish Government has contributed 96.5% of the £600m and continues to works towards its target of providing access to superfast broadband to 100% of premises in Scotland.”