Call for review of Connected Communities

Labour candidate Donald Crichton has called on Highlands and Islands Enterprise to carry out a full review of Connected Communities in the light of difficulties faced by customers.

Writing to Chief Executive Alex Paterson he also requested that HIE fund an upgrade to the BT exchange in Barvas so that people in the area can enjoy the same level of broadband service as their neighbouring villages .

Mr Crichton said: “ In the light of the new investment of £10 - £15 million of funding successfully bid for by HIE to be rolled out for the Highlands and Islands area I am requesting that you take this opportunity to carry out a full review of Connected Communities.

This review should include a full and frank consultation with the areas affected in the Western Isles so that planning for the new investment of the next generation of high speed broadband is informed by the local communities affected.

He continued: “ I am also requesting that in the meantime HIE fund an upgrade of the BT exchange in Barvas. For far too long villages like Barvas and Carloway on the Isle of Lewis have been left behind as a result of an unwillingness by HIE and BT to address the failures of Connected Communities and not upgrading the Barvas exchange. This is frustrating for individuals and businesses, not least the GP surgery in Carloway whose IT system frequently crashes. I understand that your organisation has dismissed calls in the past to upgrade the exchange quoting figures of £300-400k and claiming it would take years to do. Perhaps you could provide some clarification on this for me.”

Mr Crichton added: “The importance of developing the next generation of high speed broadband is essential for our local economy and our social development. This new investment should address the current broadband problems in the Western Isles including exploring the development of the Minch connection cable.

While Connected Communities was established to provide communities in the islands with good broadband connections it is becoming increasingly clear that it is actually inhibiting rather increasing access in some villages.

He concluded: “ If people are coming to the conclusion from experience and frustration that HIE and BT are working against their interests then that is unacceptable. We cannot have a situation where public money is being spent to prop up a system that is not working as it should.

“I know that since the mid nineties that a lot of good work has gone on to improve IT development in the Western Isles. That excellent legacy should not be marred by a failure to consult and listen to the needs of the communities of the Western Isles.”