The British Government recently decided, without notice to any of us involved in the sector, to change the way that rents are agreed for the wireless infrastructure. The change, if introduced, would shift valuing land away from a market-based system, to a ‘no scheme’ valuation.
The measure is contained in the Digital Economy Bill which is currently going through Parliament. We were so concerned about the move that we decided to take action.
It’s difficult to convey just how much of a shock the UK government’s move was. We had worked with the relevant authorities for a long time and there had even been an independent Law Commission study that dismissed the moves.
But that hasn’t stopped the Government from proposing a fundamental change in the rules surrounding private ownership. It would change the way that we, and others, engage with landowners.
We believe that the Government has accepted an argument from the mobile operators that suggests any cut in the costs of operating the infrastructure, however small they may be, will be reinvested so that badly served parts of the country will get broadband and mobile coverage. We do not accept that and believe that it could make things worse in both rural areas, where many of the existing problems are, but in cities in well.
So we have taken our case to Parliament. This is not something that the team has been involved in previously so we wanted to everyone an idea of what we have done and what we have found has worked so far.
- Taking the time to understand Parliament – understanding the legislative process has been critical. Knowing when things happen and the actions that Parliamentarians can take has meant that we have been able to engage at the right time.
- Getting the briefings clear – when you are really close to the details of an issue like we are, trying to express your arguments in a way that those in Parliament understand can be a challenge. We have had to do our best to avoid jargon and technical terminology, and express what our issues are concisely.
- Talking to the right people – there are a lot of Parliamentarians, so we have engaged with the ones that have a real interest in the issue or have a formal role in the debates.
- Building support – we have been in contact with others who have the same concerns as ourselves. A united front will always have more impact so talking to those, for instance, who work with landowners has been important so far.
- Offering a solution – rather than simply looking to complain about what the UK government wants to do, however justifiable that may be, we have put forward proposed amendments that those in Parliament could use. We have reflected the needs of our business and of our customers in coming up with ideas that will work.
The Bill is still going through the UK Parliament and our engagement will continue. Our approach has been constructive whilst being unafraid to question what the Government is trying to achieve. We are really pleased with how the engagement has gone and we even received a mention during the debate.
We still do not quite understand what the Government is intervening in a free market system that works. The Government has not been able to explain why either. At a time when international investment is much-needed in the UK, following the result in the European Union referendum last year, the move seems particularly strange.
We will keep engaging and putting our strong arguments forward.
Tom Evans, Senior Vice President