Openreach -- we're all in this together, Andy.

Added by Chris Pateman | Tuesday 14th June 2016

When FCS responded to Ofcom's Digital Communications Review by joining with INCA, Sky, TalkTalk and Vodafone to launch a 10-point plan for a not-quite-structurally-separated Openreach, we were braced for a bit of flack.

Hadn't really expected the first salvo to come from the Communication Workers Union, though.  And, given that it has, disappointed that andy Kerr's intervention contains quite such a mish-mash of corporate-speak while saying so little about the needs and aspirations of Openreach's employees.

We and our fellow Openreach customers all want to see an improved, more flexible Openreach.  And we believe that can best be achieved by de-coupling the infrastructure business from BT’s resale businesses — in much the same way energy production has been de-coupled from energy retailing.  

None of the five parties to the 10-point plan has suggested Openreach employees are the cause of our problems:  our arguments are with stodgy, top-down corporate management thinking and poor customer responsiveness.  We want to see Openreach’s engineers empowered to use their skills and experience in the field to fix customers’ problems.  And we believe the only way to achieve this is to force a change in corporate culture.

Considering the first responsibility of the CWU is to its members, it’s a pity to see the union so philosophically aligned with the BT status-quo.  It’s particularly worrying to see a progressive, 21st century trade union arguing that a sustainable future can be built upon forcing a single ‘anchor tenant’ customer to buy your service no matter what.  We believe the future prosperity of Openreach’s workforce depends upon creating a lively, responsive and agile organisation which can compete to meet all its customers’ needs.

The UK’s industrial relations landscape is littered with the wreckage of industries — from mining and shipbuilding to the tragedy of today’s steel industry — whose managements and unions colluded to try and maintain outmoded business structures well beyond their sell-by dates.  We really can’t afford the same thing to happen in comms.

We had hoped the CWU’s response to our 10-point plan would contain an analysis of the likely effect on Openreach workers’ conditions and morale.  We have our own views on this, and we know at least some of them are shared by a proportion of Mr Kerr’s members.  Instead, we have a series of largely unsubstantiated comments and speculations that sound more like something from BT Corporate Affairs.  

We are told, for example, that separating Openreach "will restrict broadband coverage and undermine quality of service improvements.”  But with no explanation how present and projected levels of broadband coverage are functions of Openreach’s corporate ownership model.

All the signatories to the 10-point plan want to see a successful, prosperous and responsive Openreach with happy and well motivated employees and contented customers.  We have not seen this under the present corporate structure;  indeed, we do not believe it is possible under the present corporate structure.  So we are proposing some changes which we believe can deliver real results with minimal disruption.  All business life is change.  We very much hope Andy Kerr and his members will join us in working to delivering that change.