UK foreign worker red tape slowing fibre rollout – Openreach

In an interview with the FT Clive Selley, CEO of UK fixed line wholesaler Openreach, said the UK government is making it too hard to recruit foreign workers.

The FT chose to focus on ‘superfast’ broadband in its commentary but that is an unsatisfactory term. Does it refer to a specific technology, specific download speed, or what? In practice, the current emphasis is on full fibre – i.e. fibre to the premise. That’s what is needed to reach the broadband utopia envisaged by the UK government, which makes Selley’s observations about his inability to hire the people he needs all the more frustrating.

“They want the work, we want the skills and the Home Office have a process that is tortuous,” said Selley. “We are constraining the rate of fibre build in the UK through the process. If it was easier getting people in, I would take a thousand tomorrow.”

Apparently he was referring to contractors rather than full time staff and has a particular eye on Spain and Portugal as their fibre rollout is at a more advanced stage, thus freeing up qualified workers for new projects. The UK has some kind of points-based immigration system which is apparently failing to take account the needs of this particular labour market.

Another term favoured by the FT in the piece is ‘Brexit’, with the headline mischaracterising Selley’s words in its eagerness to steer the narrative in that direction. It’s no secret that the FT wasn’t a fan of Brexit but, unlike much of the rest of the UK media, it has largely accepted the outcome of the vote and focused on how to make the best of the situation.

Old habits die hard, however, and in this case it fell into the familiar correlation/causation trap of assuming anything that follows the Brexit vote but be a direct result of it. Selley made it clear the problem lies with our own rules and bureaucracies, which in this case seem to have proven themselves incapable of adapting to the new circumstances. Brexit may have exposed the incompetence of the UK state but it didn’t cause it.

As for Selley’s agenda, it seems fair to assume Openreach is facing renewed pressure from the government regarding the pace of its fibre rollout, so he is attempting to pass the buck back to the state. If the UK is making it too difficult for skilled Europeans to work here then that is indeed a Brexit failure, but one that seems easy to fix if the government will is there. Over to you, Bojo.


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