Nigel’s Notes - Getting better connected

Some of the issues which my constituents bring to me can be dealt with fairly quickly because it is clear who is responsible and the individual case can be considered on its merits. In contrast some of the matters seem to be almost impossibly big because no one is actually responsible, and the coverage of the mobile telephone operators is one of these.

We have inherited a system which responded to market forces by giving the best coverage to the largest number of folk at the lowest cost, and unsurprisingly that’s brilliant if you live in our of our major cities, and it’s what I shall diplomatically describe as variable if you live in rural areas.

I have spoken to Ofcom about this and they have always contended that they were not in a position to tell the operators what to do as it would offend rules on competition.

It is in this context that I heartily welcome news that an agreement has been reached between the UK government and the country’s biggest mobile networks to improve mobile coverage across these islands.

We are told that EE, O2, Three and Vodafone have agreed to invest £5bn and guarantee coverage across 90% of the UK by 2017.

While this must be a move in the right direction I do wonder what difference it will make for us because the 10% which is not improved might well include a lot of the rural bits of Scotland.

Apparently the firms had rejected the government’s preferred option of a system allowing customers of one network to use another if their supplier wasn’t available.

The Government reckons the agreement should reduce total “not-spots”, where there is no mobile coverage, by two-thirds. Let’s hope it achieves something for our coastal strip and the glens.

Last week it was announced that there would be a public inquiry into historical abuse of children in care in Scotland.

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, the Cabinet Secretary for Education Angela Constance said that the full remit and appointments for the inquiry would be confirmed by the end of April, following consultation with survivors of abuse.

Arrangements for meetings with survivors will begin in January.

I’m encouraged by the fact that the inquiry would be given the power to compel witnesses to appear and give evidence. It is a measure of any society how it treats those are not able to stand up for themselves. If we have failed a generation of children then we really must identify the mistakes and learn the lessons.

There was also a parliamentary first last week as Aileen Campbell MSP went off on maternity leave and Fiona McLeod MSP was appointed as temporary Minister for children and young people. There would be nothing remarkable about this in any other workplace; it just happens to be the first time it has happened in the Scottish Government.I wish all my constituents a happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.