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Business / Connectivity is key, says new HIE chief executive

Dr Stuart Black, Chief Executive, HIE. Photo: John Paul Picture Credit John Paul /HIE

THE NEW chief executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise says he recognises that connectivity is key to the economic success of the region, particularly in more remote and islands areas.

Dr Stuart Black, an expert in town and regional planning, took up his post at the helm of the development agency earlier in January.

Speaking to Shetland News on Thursday afternoon he gave assurances that HIE wanted to work with communities where the current R100 roll-out of broadband capability may not reach every remote business and community.

A report before councillors earlier this week made the point that currently only 83 per cent of households and businesses in the isles had access to “decent” broadband speeds, while 1,600 premises, or 17 per cent, had not.

Dr Black said the government’s R100 programme would help improve speeds for some, but acknowledged the figure “isn’t great and needs to get improved”.

The Scottish Government’s commitment of bringing superfast broadband to every house and business in Scotland is now expected to be largely complete by the end of 2023, two years later than initially promised.

Attached to R100 programme is a voucher scheme for premises that are unable to be connected to the fibre network.

Dr Black said, the development agency was not involved in the roll out of R100, but would get involved in discussions, if necessary, to help fill “potential gaps” in the provision.

“We do know how important it is [broadband provision] and the pandemic has highlighted the divisions between those who have super- or ultrafast broadband and those who don’t – so it really is an important issue for Highlands and Islands Enterprise,” he said.

“If you really want to do businesses in places then you need connectivity, and that is what we want for all over our communities and businesses.

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“The commitment is there because of R100, and from HIE’s point of view we recognise that we want to get as many people connected as possible.”

Under the voucher scheme, the Scottish Government pays a “one-off” of up to £5,000 to help install a permanent broadband connection to premises that are unable to benefit from the R100 programme.

More information can be found here.

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