North Ayrshire has among the lowest rate of internet use according to Office of National Statistics report
NORTH Ayrshire has among the lowest rates of internet use in the UK according to recently published data which lays bare the extent of the country’s digital divide. One in six people, almost twice the UK national average, have not been online in the past three months or had never used the internet, according to a report by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). Stirling and Perth and Kinross have the lowest rates in Scotland with 18.3 per cent of people meeting the low and non-use criteria, compared with 15.3 per cent in North and East Ayrshire1.
The highest rate is in West Lothian where just 5.5 per cent of people said they hadn’t been online in the previous three months. Households without access to the internet are estimated to lose around ?560-a-year because they can’t shop and pay bills online, according to Digital Divide in the UK, a report published by the Royal Geographical Society. Up to 90 per cent of job applications now require some form of online use. While the true reasons for the divide are not yet clear, comparatively high numbers of elderly, unemployed and economically inactive people may provide a partial explanation, according to experts. According to John Fitzgerald of Prestwick-based satellite broadband provider Internet Anywhere, lack of use in rural, remote and drive-to-work areas is also down to poor connectivity.
His company connects customers without access to a fibre-optic broadband connection, mostly in rural areas beyond the reach of the current network.
“Mostly they are businesses that are at a competitive disadvantage because their broadband capacity is too small for their commercial requirements or because they have no internet connection at all.
“It’s a huge problem for businesses, most of which are SMEs already faced with higher transport costs because of their location.”
Fitzgerald added: “The Scottish Government really needs to grasp the nettle and ensure that areas with low internet use have proper access to broadband provision to put the country on a level playing field.
“Unless something changes, it’s looking increasingly doubtful whether they will meet their 2020 target and, at a time when they should be doing everything in their power to grow the UK economy, that is worrying.”
The Scottish Government has pledged to ensure superfast broadband is available to all homes and businesses by 2020.
According to an Ofcom report, published last December, 400,000 properties north of the border still don’t have access to superfast broadband and half of those can’t access broadband speeds over 10 megabits per second (mb/s), considered by the regulator to be the minimum necessary.
Mark Graham, Professor of Internet Geography at the University of Oxford, warned that as the UK becomes “digital by default”, non-users face becoming further marginalised
There are, without a doubt, many strengths in the Scottish economy: an established and resurgent financial services sector; one of the most developed markets for angel investment to be found; a food and drink industry in rude health; and enviable appeal among international tourists, to name a few. But try as the Government might, there’s no getting away from some deep structural difficulties that suppress productivity and drag down GDP.
By their nature, these problems are difficult to untangle, but if the goal is long-term sustainable growth, then they must be tackled. With economists at the Fraser of Allander Institute warning that Scotland is is edging close to recession – stuck in a “cycle of weak growth, declining confidence and poor investment and net export figures” – here are some key points to consider:
A recent report from consumer group Which?1 named three local authorities in Scotland – the Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands and the Highlands – as the worst in the UK for average broadband speeds. Though superfast broadband has reportedly reached 90 per cent of the country, those left without are suffering vast disparities in productivity.
Employers repeatedly report that too many young people coming into work don’t have the skills2 required in a rapidly-changing marketplace. To date, much of the skills shortfall in areas such as IT, health and education has been filled by recruitment from abroad, but with the uncertainties surrounding Brexit, it remains unclear how accessible this pool of talent will be in the future.
Regardless of whether Brexit3 and possibly Scottish independence4 will ultimately prove best in the long run, both are undoubtedly deflecting focus from fundamental issues that are undermining the economy. The snap General Election that was meant to steady the ship did anything but, and there will be no straight-forward exit from Europe, nor potentially from the UK.
The Ageing Population
As an increasing proportion of people within the country live to an older age, the demands on the public finances are certain to increase in the years ahead. One study has suggested that by 2037, the old-age dependency ratio in Scotland will reach 48 per cent, compared to 45 per cent in the rest of the UK.
The North Sea
A survey earlier this month5 found the offshore industry is looking ahead with “cautious optimism”, but the fact remains that the price of oil is half of that in 2014. Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost, and while some are moving into the renewables industry, growth in the sector has not kept pace with the rapid decline in oil and gas.
Food and drink exports are booming6 , and the fall in the value of the pound is lifting overseas sales in general, but too few firms in Scotland are tapping the potential of markets abroad. This is particularly true of the smaller companies that make up the majority of the business mix north of the Border: of those with an annual turnover between ?1m and ?10m, just 24 per cent export.
The business angel community in Scotland is second to none, but at the next level up, access to the larger sums typically provided by venture capitalists is less readily available. This is a particular problem in the development of home-grown industry leaders, especially in rapidly-moving sectors such as technology.
Supply continues to outstrip demand, yet the number of new-build homes going up on an annual basis has still failed to regain levels last seen before the 2008 recession. The economy is fragile, but house prices continue to rise7 , keeping new entrants off the property ladder and storing up problems for the future.
Latest figures from the Scottish Government show that business investment in research and development has fallen from what were already weak levels.
With R&D a key to solving the stubbornly intractable “productivity puzzle”, ways must be found to boost private sector spending in this area.
Big-ticket infrastructure projects funded by the public sector have been making an outsized contribution to the construction sector, which has been one of the drivers of GDP growth in Scotland.
As is the case with research and development, the private sector remains reticent when it comes to spending on major capital projects
- ^ recent report from consumer group Which? (www.insider.co.uk)
- ^ don’t have the skills (www.insider.co.uk)
- ^ Brexit (www.insider.co.uk)
- ^ Scottish independence (www.insider.co.uk)
- ^ survey earlier this month (www.insider.co.uk)
- ^ Food and drink exports are booming (www.insider.co.uk)
- ^ house prices continue to rise (www.insider.co.uk)
More households and businesses in Largs1 and West Kilbride2 are now able to connect to high-speed fibre thanks to the ?428M Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband roll-out. These towns are among the latest to be reached by the project, extending existing coverage in these areas. Most of the latest local connections to be upgraded were previously ‘Exchange Only’ lines, a historic legacy of the copper network once thought to be out of the reach of high-speed fibre services.
Such lines run directly from the exchange to homes and business premises, bypassing the usual road-side cabinets which are a vital part of the fibre roll-out. Engineers worked out an innovative way to integrate these lines into the fibre network, laying hundreds of metres of new cables to reroute lines through extra road-side cabinets. Local people need to sign up for the new, faster services with an internet service provider, as upgrades are not automatic.
Fibre broadband offers fast and reliable broadband connections at speeds of up to 80Mbps and there are many suppliers in the marketplace to choose from. Please note however that these are the top wholesale speeds available from Openreach to all service providers; speeds offered by service providers may vary. Whether you own a business, work from home or want to keep in touch with friends and family, fibre broadband enables multiple users to connect to the internet at high speeds and get better, faster access to online services. The programme is delivered through two projects – led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise in its area and the Scottish Government in the rest of Scotland. Other funding partners include the UK Government through Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), BT, local authorities and the EU via the European Regional Development Fund.
BT is investing ?126M, and the total project value includes around ?18 million which is being reinvested back in to the programme as a result of stronger than expected early take-up. Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing, said: “More than 90% of Scotland now has fibre broadband available thanks to both the programme and commercial coverage. The Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme is progressing further and we are reaching some very small and more remote communities, as well as extending coverage in places like Largs and West Kilbride.
“The Scottish Government is committed to delivering 100% superfast broadband access across Scotland by 2021.”
Local people can check the Digital Scotland website www.scotlandsuperfast.com to find out if they can get a fibre-based service.