Every year, Openreach applies for hundreds of thousands of permits to work in every part of the country. And as we ramp up our build to deliver ultrafast, ultra reliable Full Fibre broadband to 25 million homes and businesses, the number of permits we need is expected to double.
The current system is not suited to the type of work we’re doing – which unlike other utilities, is high volume and low duration. Which also means it’s relatively low impact.
Applying for permits creates an admin burden for us, but also for our partners in local authorities, and it slows down our rollout.
Flexi permits offer an alternative solution. They allow for multiple streets to be permitted at once, cutting processing times for local authorities and reducing our permitting requirements by as much as 90% in some cases.
The Department for Transport has agreed to undertake a set of trials, which we are supporting and are keen to see this policy implemented as soon as possible, so that more homes and businesses can be connected.
Across the UK there are thousands of multi-dwelling units. These range from blocks of flats, through to houses that have been converted into apartments.
While we are allowed to enter communal areas to repair the copper network, we’re not allowed to upgrade residents to Full Fibre. To do this, we need a wayleave given by the owner of the building, and this isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. Where we can’t secure a wayleave, we are unable to install the fibre into the building.
We estimate that our Full Fibre is currently outside around 801,000* MDUs, most of which are ‘small’, meaning there’s between one and 30 flats within the building.
The government recently introduced a ‘workaround’ called the Telecommunications Infrastructure Leasehold Property Act, or TILPA. But our trials show that this is not working.
In Glasgow we found that it increased the cost of building by 160%, which is money away from upgrading other homes and businesses.
We want to work with government and the wider industry to develop a solution and prevent a future digital divide.
Automatic upgrade rights are the way forward, allowing us to use the same access rights to upgrade flats as we would to repair their broadband.
*Figure updated in November 2023 and does not match the video content.
Every year BT Group pays towards the government’s Apprenticeship Levy, and over the last three years Openreach has used around half of that to hire and train 10,000 apprentices.
We’ve done this in-house, in our 10 purpose built, state of the art training schools, and have worked closely with national bodies to ensure that our courses are developed and delivered to the highest, industry recognised standards.
However, with nearly 30,000 engineers, we now need to focus on reskilling our workforce. This means ensuring our copper engineers can also install and maintain the fibre network. The levy in its current form doesn’t offer the flexibility we need to provide short courses and accreditations to our existing workforce, many of whom will have already secure an apprenticeship and therefore aren’t eligible for a second.
It also doesn’t let us train the next generation of civil engineers who are already highly skilled and highly qualified. Without reform, it will be increasingly challenging to provide our engineers with the skills they need to evolve with the industry.
In order to ensure continuous improvements in the UK's fibre infrastructure, foster healthy competition, and deliver value to customers, it is crucial to maintain stability in the regulatory environment. The current regulatory framework, known as the Wholesale Fixed Telecoms Market Review, has proven successful in achieving these goals.
It provides a long-term framework for investment that has given Openreach the confidence to make a ‘fair bet’ and invest billions of pounds upfront on the basis that we would retain future earnings, something we don’t expect for the next 20 years.
We have a £15 billion spending package to deliver the UK’s second-largest engineering project. Our investment in people, innovations, and capital has allowed us to develop a highly efficient and cost-effective build process. Unfortunately, we're not immune to the impact of inflation, and raw materials have shot up by as much as 40%.
With our business investment cycles extending over a number of years, we are calling on government to provide a long-term solution that extends capital allowances beyond the initial three years, to allow businesses to deliver sustainable long-term growth and make the UK more attractive to investment.
Thanks to the Apprenticeship Levy, Openreach has successfully trained over 10,000 engineers in the past three years. As we move to re-skilling our existing workforce, it’s now time to introduce greater flexibility and transparency into the levy.
With a levy bill that could fund fibre upgrades for up to 34,000 premises annually, there's an opportunity to invest this money into reskilling our existing workforce. This includes individuals who are ineligible for another apprenticeship due to having already completed one, but who require reskilling to move from copper engineering to the Full Fibre roll-out.
Flexi-permitting is supported across the industry and offers a solution that could help improve industry efficiency by around a quarter and reduce permit processing by up to 90% in local authorities.
We currently apply for 300,000 permits a year to councils across the country to deliver our upgrades on a street-by-street basis and this is set to double as we build to 25 million premises across the UK. While government has committed to trialling flexi-permits across England and Wales, we need urgent progress to keep our build plans on track.
Around 801,000 homes across the UK risk missing out on upgrades to faster, more reliable broadband due to barriers to access. These homes are in so-called Multi-Dwelling Units (flats or sub-divided houses) and are at risk of a future digital divide if we don't establish automatic upgrade rights.
As it currently stands Openreach can use our existing wayleaves to access communal areas in flats to repair the copper network, but we cannot use those same access rights to upgrade these premises to the latest Full Fibre technology. Changes to legislation tried to provide a workaround to help us more easily access flats and homes to upgrade, but trials are showing us that this is not a viable solution.
In Glasgow, this new approach increased the normal cost of upgrading a flat to Full Fibre by 160%. Automatic upgrade rights are key to overcoming this barrier and allowing us to provide the latest, future proofed, technology to all residents.
Openreach has committed to decarbonising our 29,000 strong van fleet by 2030 and now needs to see leadership from government in order to develop a national charging infrastructure and boost supplies of UK-made vehicles.
We’ve committed to doing our part, installing charge points in our engineers’ homes and key strategic locations for the business, but need a UK-wide network of interoperable and well-maintained charge points within easy reach for all drivers in all communities. Additionally, we want to support UK manufacturers and support calls for further support that allows van manufacturers to easily re-fit their plants for electric vehicles.