Friday 15 November 2019 / 12:00 PM John McDonnell

Full Text of John McDonnell’s Speech on Labour’s British Broadband announcement


***Check Against Delivery***

John McDonnell, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, Outlining Labour’s British Broadband plans in a speech at the University of Lancaster today, said:

I want to thank my friend, Jeremy Corbyn, for showing us in that speech why he will be the Prime Minister that this country so desperately needs.

He will be a connected Prime Minister who knows and understands the communities of this country that he will stand up for. He will be a principled Prime Minister, always giving expression to the best of the values that we can all live up to; like care, and solidarity, and justice. And he will be a visionary Prime Minister, bold and ambitious in his agenda for this country and the world. Being connected, principled, and visionary, they are qualities our country is crying out for.

These are the very qualities that Boris Johnson lacks, as he has demonstrated in recent months. A Prime Minister who didn’t know what the minimum wage was a matter of months ago. A Prime Minister who tells one audience what’s in his Brexit deal, and another audience something completely different. A Prime Minister with no positive vision for change in this country beyond returning us to the Thatcher years.

I say this to the Prime Minister: nostalgia for some bygone era is no substitute for vision.

We’re now into the second week of this general election campaign. We will continue to be relentlessly positive in what we present, mapping out the different kind of society we will create and doing it with care, precision, and discipline. Costing every new spending announcement, describing in detail how we will deliver our plans.

In the meantime, the Tories continue their campaign of scattershot attacks and scare-mongering, while they refuse to cost their own policies and while the Chancellor refuses to participate in a debate with me about what our respective policies mean for the future of this country. These are the same old Tory attack lines and the same old Tory tactics. They don’t seem to understand the times we’re in.

It’s not just Brexit; which does need to be resolved through a leader that listens, and a leader that is connected to people, a leader like Jeremy Corbyn. It’s also about the climate emergency, and the human emergency caused by 9 long years of Tory austerity. Where 87 people die a day waiting for the care they need. Where 155 women and 103 children are turned away from refuges every day because of the cuts. Where 726 die in a year, last year, because they have no home to sleep in. As Chancellor I won’t allow this to go on.

So last week I announced our ambitious investment plans. £250 billion for a Green Transformation Fund over 10 years. £150 billion for a Social Transformation Fund over 5 years. Investment at a scale that matches the scale of the emergencies we face.

In the world we live in today, all of our infrastructure must be green and we cannot ignore the social infrastructure that is the glue that holds our community together. But what we’re saying today is we have also failed to be ambitious enough about our digital infrastructure.

In the mid-1990s the South Korean government launched a nationwide project, the Korean Information Infrastructure project. In 1995, they had just one internet user for every hundred citizens.[1] Now, partly because of mission-oriented government investment, they have 98% of their population covered by full-fibre broadband. We have had nothing near that level of forward-thinking ambition in this country.

That changes today, and that changes with a Labour Government.

We are announcing our mission today to deliver free full-fibre broadband to all by 2030. To achieve that, as Jeremy has already indicated, we will roll out the remaining 90% of the full-fibre network. We’ll acquire the necessary access rights to the existing 10% of the full-fibre network that has already been rolled out. To achieve these things we’ll create a new entity, British Broadband.

That entity will bring the broadband-relevant parts of BT into public ownership. That will include Openreach, which has installed the majority of existing full-fibre coverage, and parts of BT Technology, BT Enterprise, and BT Consumer.

EE, Plusnet, BT Global Services, and BT TV will not be brought into public ownership and we will work the workforce and unions to finalise the details of these plans.

British Broadband will be a new public service for the twenty-first century. It will have two arms, an infrastructure arm and a service arm. British Digital Infrastructure, the infrastructure arm, will take on the roll-out of the full-fibre network. The British Broadband Service, the service arm, will deliver free full-fibre broadband to all.

We’ll deliver that free full-fibre broadband in tranches, beginning with those with the worst quality broadband: including rural and remote regions, and inner-city suburbs. We’ll then move into towns, ending with those parts of large urban centres currently well-served.

British Broadband will not represent a return to the 1970s in how it operates. They didn’t have broadband in the 1970s, this is public ownership for the future. Public ownership where workers, consumers, and other stakeholders manage the service, and we will guarantee workers currently in broadband infrastructure and retail jobs employment in British Broadband.

At the same time as all of this, we’ll pass a Charter of Digital Rights. The most cutting-edge protection of digital and data rights this country has ever seen.

Compare this with what the Tories proposed. They’ve suggested a £5 billion pay out for part of the network but they won’t even keep the ownership of the network. So what they want is a fat subsidy to existing operators like Virgin. All the signs are that they’ll use a procurement process that wastes tens of millions on legal and consultancy fees with suggestions that building won’t get underway until November 2021. And all they’re aspiring to is ‘gigabit-capable’ broadband – broadband of a certain speed. That could keep old copper cables in the ground and keep the UK behind the technological revolution other countries have kick started. It’s not enough for the times we’re in.

Ours is a plan that will provide a step-up for people with 5G connections and businesses developing 5G-based products. A plan that will challenge rip-off ‘out-of-contract’ pricing and that will literally eliminate bills for millions of people across the UK. Rebecca Long-Bailey, our Shadow BEIS Minister, will speak more about what this means for our environment, for our businesses, and for our society.

What I want to underscore is that every part of this plan has been legally vetted, checked with experts, and costed.

The full-fibre network will be paid for with £15.3 billion out of our Green Transformation Fund. That’s based on a £20.3 billion national monopoly costing by Frontier Economics, taking off £5 billion from the Government’s not-yet-spent commitment. The maintenance costs of the network, around £230 million a year, will be more than covered by a new approach to taxing multinationals that we welcomed several weeks ago.

It’s an approach that looks at where multinationals’ sales, workforce, and operations are, as a share of their global activity. So if a multinational has 10% of its sales, workforce, and operations in the UK, they’re asked to pay tax on 10% of their global profits. Two tax experts recently estimated that the approach could raise £6-14 billion for the UK. It is easily enough to pay for the maintenance costs of the network, and any costs of servicing the debt from bringing parts of BT into public ownership. That public ownership process will happen in the usual way, with bonds swapped for shares, and Parliament setting the final price. We know, from our expert advice, that this is delivered.

The network can be built in 10 years. We can train and provide the skilled engineers and workers needed to roll out the network, including through our exciting package on lifelong learning. We can implement this new tax on multinationals, to ask the tech giants like Google and Facebook to pay a bit more, for internet connectivity they benefit from, and so that we can all share in the benefits of living in a digital world.

People asked last week whether there were ‘shovel-ready’ projects for our ambitious infrastructure investment plans. This is a shovel-ready project.

What we are offering in this election is real change and what we’ve announced today is what real change looks and feels like. It looks and feels like thousands of people, getting stuck in around the country, to provide a service that will make all of our lives better. It looks and feels like taking on the multinationals, something for years people have said is too hard. It looks and feels like a service that people once paid for, which will now be free. It looks and feels like people having a future they can be excited about.

You know, Ken Loach has a new film out. But in an older one of his that some of you might have seen, Which Side Are You On?, one of the miners recites words of a poem. The poem speaks of how the miners were “lost in the bowels of the earth / through trying to make a future. But now what is it worth?”. Young people and others are asking that question again now. With a torn social fabric and a climate emergency, what is our future worth?

In the Labour Party, with your help, we have an answer. We have a vision of the future that we think is worth fighting for.

We’ll fight for it in government.

You’ll help us deliver it.