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BT and its Unions Issue Letter to Staff Over the Risks of a Brexit Vote

Monday, June 13th, 2016 (9:32 am) - Score 1,008

The senior bosses of telecoms and broadband giant BT have joined with the leaders of the CWU and Prospect unions to issue staff with a new letter that warns about the possible impact upon their business of a vote to leave the EU, which if recent polls are to be believed may now be looking more likely.

Next week, on Thursday 23rd June 2016, the United Kingdom will vote in one of its most significant referendums ever by choosing to either remain in or leave the European Union. It’s a hotly contested debate and one with few easy answers, not least due to the sheer complexity of the subject matter, its many hypothetical scenarios and the deeply divisive passions that run between supporters of both camps.

According to the BBC, the new letter from BT’s CEO (Gavin Patterson) and its Chairman (Sir Michael Rake) is being issued this morning to over 80,000 of the operator’s staff. In its message the operator warns that a vote to leave (Brexit) would have a big impact upon the company and the wider economy, although the exact wording has not yet been made public. We have asked BT about it and got a statement in reply.

A BT Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

The Board and senior management of BT have been clear for months that the company’s prospects are better if the UK stays in a reformed EU.

We think the UK economy faces risks if we exit the EU, and that would impact the company.

We earn about a fifth of our revenue outside the UK – so we value the way the EU opens markets. The union leadership at BT agrees, so it’s a joint message with them.”

BT’s letter then continues on to highlight how 20% of their sales come from outside of the UK and that the company benefits from the EU through minimal import taxes and the removal of other trade barriers.

As ever the catch-22 is what would happen in a post-Brexit world when such rules need to be renegotiated, although few deny that there would at least be a potentially damaging period of uncertainty; lasting up to 2 years.

The letter concludes by highlighting the EU’s claimed benefit to workers’ rights via protection of key employment laws, although it doesn’t directly tell staff to vote one way or the other and merely recommends that they make up their own mind and then go out to vote.

Matthew Elliott, CEO of Vote Leave, said:

“Sir Mike Rake backed the euro and opposed a referendum as did Gavin Paterson. They never even wanted their employees to have a say on this issue. Likewise their talk of a reformed Europe is meaningless and hollow – everyone knows that renegotiation was an utter failure that achieved nothing.”

On the broadband side it’s worth noting that a vote in either direction wouldn’t have much of a traditional direct impact, at least not in terms of the infrastructure that is already in the ground and policy that is already established.

Indeed in this field UK policy has sometimes been ahead of Europe’s by a few years. Similarly the UK’s plan for a 10Mbps USO is also ahead of many EU states (note: a legally binding USO should NOT be confused with non-binding coverage targets for superfast broadband), although there’s still a question mark over whether or not we can achieve 100% coverage of 30Mbps+ connectivity without adopting inferior Satellite solutions to fill a 0.5-1% gap.

On the flip side the EU’s Digital Agenda project (i.e. 30Mbps for all by 2020) did serve as a very useful competitive push for countries to be more ambitious and losing that push may result in UK broadband policy becoming less competitive on the future connectivity side. The EU is already considering what targets and funding to adopt post-2020 and this is perhaps the biggest area of future risk for the broadband side of things, albeit one that is currently very difficult to examine pre-policy.

Many rural broadband projects have received significant amounts of money through the EU (e.g. Cornwall) and a number of forthcoming schemes will see more flowing their way in the future, albeit currently highlighting a lot less funding than we’ve seen in the past, which would cease two years after a leave vote.

Some may speculate that the UK could then use some of the money that it would have previously paid into the EU and flush that back into the UK, but it would perhaps be unwise to assume that broadband is going to be a significant recipient (e.g. some leave campaigners have already suggested putting it all into the NHS).

We must also not forget the fears of a general economic slowdown and recession, which has a tendency to cause job losses. Assuming that were to happen then consumer and business behaviour often becomes more protectionist, meaning they’ll look around to cut costs / switch to cheaper solutions. But that in turn means less money being spent on upgrades to even faster broadband, which on the flip side can make it harder for new networks to get built / attract investment. Mind you once an agreement is reached then we might see an improvement.

At the end of the day next week’s referendum is about much bigger and more significant things than broadband. Similarly many of the key questions remain difficult to answer with any absolute certainty.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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23 Responses
  1. Bob2002 says:

    With regard to long term economic forecasting I’ll just leave this here –


  2. Karl says:

    ” the new letter from BT’s CEO (Gavin Patterson) and its Chairman (Sir Michael Rake) is being issued this morning to over 80,000 of the operator’s staff. In its message the operator warns that a vote to leave (Brexit) would have a big impact upon the company and the wider economy, although the exact wording has not yet been made public.”

    I hope rather than an actual printed letter and 80,000 bits of paper this was sent to the employees via email or similar if they are so worried about finances of the business. If you can suddenly on a whim afford to send letters to 80,000 people i doubt you have to worry about your profit making too much.
    Then again the decision is indeed a difficult one. One side trying to gain votes through fear (no shock BT have taken the same approach) the other through promises of saving money. Like most things political its all a big flying pig either way.
    Have to give our political friends credit though, holding the vote during the 3 day gap period before the Round 16 of the Euro footie. Maybe they are in touch with reality after all… Or they just got lucky with the date and people wont have anything better to do for 90mins of entertainment.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Somehow I doubt that BT, which sends media rich multi-page adverts for their services to millions of homes on a regular basis, will worry too much about the impact of printing 80,000 letters 🙂 .

    2. Karl says:

      I had almost forgot about that monthly set of dubious claims and promises.

      Makes you wonder how they got…

      Unless its all recycled paper? I spose it is in a way as it says the same load of nonsense in every leaflet.

  3. JustAnotherFileServer says:

    A BT Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:
    “We think the UK economy faces risks if we exit the UK”

    I think someone has been at the bottle this morning :O

  4. DTMark says:

    I would imagine that the risk to BT lies in the EU’s broadband goals, but not in the way you might imagine.

    Eventually the EU might mandate, say, 100 Mbps for all.

    Which then results in BDUK part whatever it is, say part 4, with another pot of money coming to BT.

    No EU, no 100 Mbps goal. Our government can simply stop there.

    No goal, no pot of money coming.

  5. Kits says:

    CEO is only looking after his pot of gold the bonus he gets if he loses a little to red tape he might not hit his target and lose the bonus. Which now has a claw back on it, he already gets enough money without making the lower paid suffer more.

    this is taken from The Guardian 2015.
    BT boss Gavin Patterson, who has masterminded the company’s push into mobile and pay-TV, has collected £4.6m for his first full year in the job.

    Patterson’s work during the last financial year, which has included winning premier league broadcasting rights and negotiating the £12.5bn takeover of mobile network EE, could reap even bigger rewards.

    He was awarded £3.9m of long-term incentive shares, which vest in 2017 and are dependent on performance. More of Patterson’s rewards are now subject to clawback – should BT’s fortunes take a turn for the worse, the company can in future confiscate annual bonus shares.

  6. HMM says:


    1. RICHARD WALTONu says:

      Here Here

    2. New_Londoner says:

      However, directors of companies should by law highlight issues that could have a direct impact on their shareholders. And arguably they have a moral duty to highlight issues that could have a negative impact on their employees. Remember most people have bills to pay and rely on their employment to pay them, unlike politicians and some of the wealthy dimwits wanting to take us back to the so-called golden age of the 1950s or earlier.

      IMHO any reputable employers should spell out the likely negative impact on jobs and the economy of Brexit so that normal people can make decisions based on the facts rather than xenophobia and racism.

    3. Karl says:

      “IMHO any reputable employers should spell out the likely negative impact on jobs and the economy of Brexit so that normal people can make decisions based on the facts…”

      You mean they meant to say “please vote yes to the EU see we can keep getting our pockets filled with government money”

    4. Evan Crissall says:

      Indeedy. BT should butt out and get on with its day job. So too should Wetherspoons. We go to the pub for beer. Not to be bombarded with election propaganda, whether from the Pro- or the Anti-EU campaigns.

  7. Unhappy says:

    They want the mass imigration because the more people who live here the more products they sell. They don’t care about anything other than their business. they don’t care about the effect this is having on available housing, GPs, the NHS etc

  8. jon says:

    the letter was emailed out in the weekly newsfeed so no worries about wasted paper

    1. Karl says:

      Apart from what MarkJ points out above and the paper guff in its millions they send out each month then yep i guess no worries about paper or wasted costs hes so concerned about. LOL

    2. FibreFred says:

      If advertising is a waste why do it?

      Arr sorry just another pointless troll…

    3. Karl says:

      Nothing wrong with advertising… Plenty wrong scaremongering about your companies future when you are merrily spending on it though.

    4. FibreFred says:

      Total agree there but has that happened? Jon said it was am email

    5. FibreFred says:

      I do know the government definitely did exactly that though with taxpayers money.

      It was a total waste at the time and an even bigger waste come the 24th

    6. Karl says:

      “Total agree there but has that happened? Jon said it was am email”

      They waste money on advertising, and then have the nerve to say their business and profits could be affected if they leave the EU, oh and it turns out it was not an email

      “I do know the government definitely did exactly that though with taxpayers money.

      It was a total waste at the time and an even bigger waste come the 24th”

      Perhaps you should go look at polls that suggest it may be otherwise.

    7. FibreFred says:

      The polls are showing brexit, the government campaign was for remain

    8. Karl says:

      My own personal mind on the issue was not made up until the mud slinging back and forth started and looking at who was involved with it. Obviously they are both as bad as each other being politicians and big business. However if its a case of picking the lesser of 2 evils then i have to vote NO, if you look at the vote YES side it appears to be full of politicians with a proven record of lying and screwing things up in general. You could say that for both sides but nobody has made as many potential balls ups as some of those telling us to vote yes. I can not even comprehend why anyone would listen to Nicola Sturgeon either considering she wanted to be separate from the rest of the UK, and is talking about a second vote on the matter… Why the hell should she even be allowed to campaign for either side is a mystery seeing as she wants out of the UK so much.

      Whatever the result the sooner another round of political B.S is over will be a relief see we wont have to see it plastered all over the news constantly.

  9. Evan Crissall says:

    What is “Brexit” all about, in reality? Stock market and currency manipulation through propaganda?

    Turbulently driving the markets up, and then driving them down again, through scaremongering from both sides.

    And princely fortunes gouged from the peaks and the troughs of the market.

    Both teams – Leave and Remain – shooting into the same goal, as someone put it. Just another City of London scam.

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