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by Sofia Villegas
02 February 2024
Digital connectivity, climate change and 5G: Council priorities revealed

Scotland's rollout programme R100 has also been under scrutiny over recent weeks | Alamy

Digital connectivity, climate change and 5G: Council priorities revealed

Aligning digital connectivity to net zero targets has been ranked as the lowest priority for councils for the second year in a row.

The findings come from the second annual survey of digital leaders at local authorities across Scotland, England and Wales by Edinburgh-based connectivity firm FarrPoint.

Carried out in December, the research revealed councils' top priorities and barriers to progressing fixed and mobile connectivity. 

Andrew Muir, chief executive of FarrPoint, said: “I hope to see a change in approach to net zero to reflect the pivotal role that better connectivity can play in achieving the country’s environmental targets. Net zero isn’t someone else’s problem – digital departments can make a significant contribution.”

Gigabit broadband rollout remained the top priority for most councils – 47 per cent – with access to at least super-fast connectivity ranking as the second highest priority.

When asked about the value of 5G, responses were divided. Although perceived as important, it still ranked below 4G, suggesting councils may not fully understand the range of opportunities 5G can offer, according to FarrPoint.

The survey also revealed a fragmented boost in planning. More than one in ten councils did not have a digital connectivity strategy in place, and one in three had no digital champion. Also, 21 per cent had no set plan for 2G and 3G switch-offs, even though these networks will not be available from 2033 onwards. 

However, 98 per cent had a plan in place for the migration from copper to fibre broadband – 27 per cent more than in 2022.

Councils also saw social care as the area which would benefit the most from smart technology.

The deployment of local infrastructure was regarded as the biggest barrier to improve digital connectivity, whereas affordability was perceived as the biggest one for residential take-up of digital connectivity services – reflecting the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

“It was disappointing to see that local issues, such as the planning process and permits, were seen as this year’s biggest barrier to improving digital connectivity. I’d encourage councils to work together with other public bodies, central government and telecom operators to tackle these challenges because they are definitely surmountable,” Muir said. 

He added that regarding connectivity as unaffordable is a misconception as it can be “just as cheap, or even cheaper, than existing services”.

He also called for measures to tackle the “significant” pressures in council budgets, as these can drive the focus away from digital connectivity rollout plans.

In December, local government body Cosla warned Scottish councils needed more than £14.4m injected into their budget just to "stand still".

South of the border, Birmingham and Nottingham city councils effectively declared themselves bankrupt last year.

Swansea Bay City Deal also contributed to the report on the survey.

Where do we stand in the journey to net zero? 

Scotland aims to reach net zero by 2045, five years before the rest of the UK. However, concerns about reaching set targets flourished after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pushed back some net zero policies in September. 

Scottish net zero minister Mairi McAllan said that U-turn was to blame for the Scottish Government’s postponement of its draft climate change plan, which was initially due for publication in November. 

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