Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has pressed the government on progress in implementing the Shared Rural Network, a plan to greatly increase mobile coverage in rural and island parts of the UK and to eliminate ‘not-spots’. Speaking during Business Questions today in Parliament Mr Carmichael called for ministers to give an update on the rollout when Parliament returns from recess in September.
The £1bn plan was announced in 2019 with the aim that by 2025, 74% of Scotland will have coverage from all four mobile networks, up from the 44% in 2020. The percentage of Scotland's landmass expected to have coverage from at least one carrier was also expected to rise from 81 per cent to 91 per cent.
The Highlands and Islands are scheduled to see the area covered by all carriers with LTE networks rise from just 26 per cent to 68 per cent. Meanwhile, the percentage of area with coverage from at least one network is expected to rise from 73 per cent to 91 per cent.
Speaking in the House Mr Carmichael said:
“As we go into recess, I have been struck by the number of Honourable and Right Honourable Members who have told me that they intend to take their summer holidays in Orkney and Shetland this year. I am sure, like the rest of the world they are attracted by our breath-taking scenery, our wildlife, our birdlife, our world-heritage sites, our quality local food and drink offering.
“I fear also that we are attractive to MPs because they know that there are so many parts of the Northern Isles where they won’t be bothered by the mobile phone signal making their phone ring. It is great for holidaying MPs, but it’s a bit of a pain for the rest of us. So, when we come back in September, can we have an update from her colleagues in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology on the Shared Rural Network scheme?”
Responding, the Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt MP said:
“Well, I congratulate him on providing a wonderful advert, if there are any members who aren’t planning on holidaying in his constituency, for reasons why they should. He raises a serious matter, and I will certainly make sure that the two departments that are most relevant to this have heard what he has said today.”
Reacting after the exchange Mr Carmichael said:
“I welcomed the Shared Rural Network scheme when it was announced in 2019 as an opportunity to end the gaps in mobile coverage which have been a perennial problem in the isles. I am certain that progress continues apace but we all deserve some clarity on the state of play before the government’s own deadline for completion.
“The pandemic showed clearly that digital connections are more important than ever, to keep people in touch with loved ones and connected to the wider world. We cannot be complacent about such a vital issue.
“Connectivity has improved in the isles in recent years but there is still much more to be done. Now we need a proper update on progress with the Shared Rural Network rollout – I shall be following this up with ministers after the summer recess.”