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TUC – Invest in UK Broadband and Create 40,000 Telecoms Jobs

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020 (8:25 am) - Score 1,130
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A new report by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which is based on research from Transition Economics, has called on the UK Government to “fast track” spending on projects such as gigabit broadband, green technology, transport and housing in order to deliver a 1.24 million jobs boost by 2022 (40,000 in telecoms alone).

The Government has already invested hundreds of millions into boosting “full fibre” broadband and mobile connectivity through its various voucher schemes, the wider Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) programme and the £1bn Shared Rural Network for mobile. Not to mention the business rates holiday on new fibre and various other regulatory or policy changes to help foster related deployments (see Budget 2020 summary).

But more recently the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has also committed to invest a further £5bn (here) to ensure that every home can access a “gigabit-capable broadband” service by the end of 2025, which is focused on helping those in the final 20% of hardest to reach premises. The proposed time-scale for this is regarded by many as being highly optimistic (i.e. the roll-out will most likely still be on-going for a few years past 2025).

Naturally the TUC have taken out their magic wand and called for a “fast tracking” of such investment, although we’re not convinced that what they propose would achieve such an outcome given that the current target for completion is already somewhat optimistic. On the other hand support to help train up more fibre engineers would certainly help to tackle the current shortage, which is a start.

Otherwise the suggestion that improving broadband could result in the creation of 40,000 additional telecoms jobs is not unreasonable (e.g. Cityfibre’s commercial build alone may create c.10,000 jobs – here), although the report doesn’t seem to show precisely how they arrived at that specific figure.

TUC Report Statement

In addition to bringing forward investment, government needs to ensure that government spending is supporting jobs across the board. This means:

• Establishing a new Just Transition Commission to oversee the transition to net-zero in a way that supports jobs and workers across the UK. This should bring together workers through their unions, business, and government, including regional and local government, to set out a clear plan for meeting the net-zero target.

• Using procurement to support UK jobs by working strategically with commissioners and both current and potential providers (i) to map goods and service requirements and identify procurement opportunities in advance (ii) build capacity to bid and deliver through the supply chain and (iii) use intelligent, social value procurement to secure employment, labour standards, skills and environmental outcomes.

• Setting out an Olympics-style plan to promote good quality jobs and training on every new infrastructure project, and specifying how these projects will help deliver on a Jobs Guarantee: When the Olympics were planned, government and the Olympics Delivery Authority worked with trade unions, local authorities and others on an agreement that ensured that the project would deliver good quality local jobs and skills programmes. A similar agreement was reached to deliver HS2. We now need similar framework agreements, which set out how contractors will work with trade unions to deliver local jobs and apprenticeships, for every infrastructure project backed by government investment. These agreements also need to set out a commitment to tackling labour market inequalities and ensuring equal access to work for those with protected characteristics. As we set out below, the TUC is calling for a Jobs Guarantee to help those who have lost their jobs in the crisis get into work. Government should require investment in infrastructure projects to come with a commitment from contractors to help deliver these guaranteed jobs.

One early candidate for this approach could be the roll out of highspeed broadband. The government has already pledged £5bn to fund the rollout of ‘gigabit capable’ broadband in the hardest to reach 20 per cent of the country and has an aim of connecting every premise by 2025

At least part of this investment looks set to build upon the Rural Gigabit Connectivity Scheme with a mixture of national and local procurement. The standards on this should go further than the current basic Corporate and Social Responsibility requirements published by DCMS, for example including promotion of trade union recognition, accredited training, permanent employment contracts and career progression, so that the investment leaves a legacy of good jobs.

And government should ensure that the supply chain for the delivery of the materials necessary for broadband roll-out is being developed in the UK.

More broadly the TUC also proposes to foster all of this via a series of other changes, such as the establishment of a new “national recovery council” (crewed with unions and employers) and new sectoral working groups (crewed with unions and business groups) to help draw up road maps for specific industries.

On top of that they want to see a new fully funded jobs guarantee programme (i.e. offering paid jobs with training and a focus on young people) and a boost in social security support for those who lose their jobs, although the latter (excluding the emergency COVID-19 schemes) seems unlikely to materialise given the massive economic crisis that is slowly unfolding.

Finally the TUC want to ensure that the crisis does not exacerbate labour market inequalities and as part of that they want to see a new drive from the Government to promote equality across all measures to rebuild the economy. Obviously this is all coming from the perspective of a union and plays to those particular points of view.

At the end of the day the biggest problem here is that building new fixed broadband networks is an inherently slow process, particularly when the underlying focus is correctly on trying to improve the reach of more expensive “full fibre” networks as far as reasonably possible. The fact that the UK is a market with much more individual housing than most (i.e. much of Europe prefers to live in apartment blocks) only exasperates the challenge.

Leave a Comment
2 Responses
  1. Avatar Gerald says:

    when is someone going to do something for people stuck on 2mbps.

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