Labour's free broadband and BT renationalisation plan criticised

15 November 2019, 14:55 | Updated: 16 November 2019, 01:38

Jeremy Corbyn's plan to offer free full-fibre broadband to all UK homes and businesses by 2030 and part-nationalise BT has been met with derision by telecoms companies, investors and Boris Johnson.

The Labour leader announced the plan on Friday, revealing once the scheme was up and running the party would tax tech giants such as Amazon, Facebook and Google to pay for it.

Speaking in Lancaster, Mr Corbyn described the new free public service - dubbed British Broadband - as "central to Labour's plans to transform our country and economy".

He said the £20bn plan will end poor internet coverage and save households £30 a month on average.

But the prime minister dismissed it as a "crackpot scheme" and a "crazed Communist scheme" as he claimed the plan would involve "tens of billions of taxpayers' money nationalising a British business".

BT reacted with caution as Philip Jansen, chief executive of the telecoms company, said the cost would actually be £100bn - five times Mr Corbyn's estimate.

He also said nationalising any of the business "is not straightforward as we have a liability to our pensioners which we see as a responsibility of £60bn".

But he told Sky News he was happy to see Labour committed to improving internet coverage, adding: "We're really delighted that all political parties see broadband, full-fibre, and the infrastructure bill that goes with that as being a central topic for the future of our country, so I'm really delighted that the Labour Party have got behind the idea.

"I'm delighted that the Labour Party, the Tories, the Lib Dems are all totally of the same view - we have to build full-fibre, it's the right technology. I mention South Korea, Japan, China... they've got it everywhere already, we have to have it in the UK for our businesses and homes so we have a chance of increasing productivity."

Shareholders reacted badly to the news as BT shares dropped nearly 4% in early morning trading after the announcement.

It later recovered slightly to be down 2% - wiping nearly £500m off the company's value.

TalkTalk's chief executive Tristia Harrison said the sale of its full fibre broadband business, FibreNation, had been put on hold after the announcement.

Virgin Media also reacted badly, with spokesman James Lusher tweeting a gif of a raccoon stealing food from a cat bowl with the words: "This is mine."

A statement from the company said: "Private investment is essential to delivering improved broadband infrastructure.

"Government policy has a role to play and can help to accelerate broadband deployment in a way that minimises the level of public subsidy needed and provides the UK and consumers with incredible connectivity within a competitive market."

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The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said Labour's plan "is not the way to do it" as renationalisation will "slow down a process that needs speeding up".

Matthew Fell, CBI's chief UK policy director, said: "Progress will be stopped in its tracks and the bill passed to pensioners and savers.

"With so many challenges facing the UK, blinkered ideologies must be left behind and replaced by forward-looking public-private partnerships that deliver rather than delay."

He added that Labour's "radical renationalisation plans" means global firms are losing "confidence in the UK as a place to invest safely".

Nicky Morgan, the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, called the plan a "fantasy" and said Mr Corbyn "will promise anything" to "distract from his party's divisions on Brexit and immigration".

Elsewhere on the campaign trial:

  • Boris Johnson launched the Conservatives' campaign bus with the slogan "Back Boris and vote Conservative to...Get Brexit Done"
  • The prime minister insisted there was "no interference" by Russians in UK politics after being asked why Number 10 was not publishing parliament's intelligence security committee report which includes evidence concerning alleged Russian attempts to influence the 2016 EU referendum and 2017 general election
  • Jeremy Corbyn said Labour's manifesto will be published next week and "is going to knock your socks off"
  • The Lib Dems pledged to spend £100bn on tackling climate change - which they said is more important than stopping Brexit

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