NFU Scotland is urging the UK Government to play its part in ensuring all regions of Scotland have access to adequate mobile phone services.
While many parts of Scotland have satisfactory mobile reception, the union is well aware that many of its members in remote rural areas struggle daily with poor network coverage.
That presents a very real health and safety issue, in an industry where lone working on more extensive farm units is commonplace.
In addition, it also has a detrimental impact on farm business efficiency.
In responding to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s consultation on tackling ‘not spots’ in mobile phone coverage, the union has called for a concerted effort in achieving improvements with targets on coverage set at a local rather than a national level.
Gemma Thomson, NFU Scotland Policy Manager, said: “While many in Scotland take mobile phone coverage for granted, there are significant areas of the country where our members struggle to receive a signal. That has health and safety implications, were there to be an emergency.
“However, from a business perspective, satisfactory mobile phone coverage is an everyday essential and in order to ensure that remote businesses can remain competitive and secure it is vital that coverage is extended. The additional benefits of improved coverage on businesses in affected areas should not be underestimated.
“While it may be appropriate to have national targets on coverage, we have used this consultation to stress that unless delivery is defined at a local area, sparsely populated areas will always lose out.
“Setting national targets may simply gloss over the issue in marginal areas and result in investment only in areas where it is most economically advantageous to Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). Coverage targets will only deliver wide-ranging benefits if they are set at a Local Authority level and ensure fragile areas benefit from any effective policy changes.
“The urgent need for better coverage in rural areas has seen a number of our members being approached by MNOs to provide ‘rent free’ mast sites in order to improve coverage. The behaviour of those seeking sites has given rise to concerns and landowners should not be pressurised into providing solutions free of charge.
“From a rural community perspective, a positive response from UK Government in addressing issues with mobile phone coverage is also required. Rural areas are increasingly fragile, and there are real issues with depopulation and the resulting social problems. Efforts must be made to ensure that living in the rural environment is both attractive and compatible with the demands of modern life.”