Collaboration should be at the heart of our recovery from Covid-19

06 Oct

Virgin Media’s Nigel Myers writes about the work of the organisation during Covid-19, and discusses how collaboration should be at the heart of the post-Covid recovery. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on large sections of our society, with implications far greater than anyone could have imagined. The telecommunications sector is no different, and we have faced a unique set of challenges, in adapting to this new environment. At Virgin Media, we have sought to maintain a ‘business as usual’ approach – provision of broadband remains a priority for consumers and has in fact increased in importance as more of us work from home. As broadband providers, our goal is not only to maintain existing networks – but to provide high speed connectivity to new customers in areas where bandwidth and speeds do not cater for the additional digital services required to effectively communicate.

Up and down the country, our operators are taking the necessary steps to keep themselves safe at work. We have ramped up the volume of risk assessments we take, as well as additional safety precautions and working methodologies to address and continually monitor these risks. The safety and wellbeing of our staff is the most important consideration, and in extremely difficult circumstances, they are all carefully balancing the wellbeing of the public and themselves to ensure daily life goes on.

Throughout the pandemic, I have been impressed with the deep levels of cooperation and collaboration between industry and government, and it so clearly shone during the early weeks and months of lockdown. In particular, Street Works UK has been in constant communication with the Departments for Transport (DfT) and Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and they have been working collaboratively with us and colleagues at the Joint Authorities Group, to swiftly develop and issue guidance on street works and advice to practitioners on operating responsibly to help control the spread of Covid-19.

As we continue to adjust to life in the new normal, I believe this excellent collaborative approach that has been fostered should be built upon as we look towards life after the pandemic. Doing so will enable the utility sector to be at the heart of the economic recovery from Covid-19. In my day job, that means having greater support to help us deliver the UK’s gigabit-capable broadband target. Looking ahead, policy changes are needed to better enable the street works industry to help the government achieve its broadband targets.

There is currently a lack of flexibility in regulations supporting street works activities for large infrastructure projects, which if not revisited, will fail to cater for the level of development the government wants. We also need a full review of the coordination processes, particularly on major works activity.  The current timeframes and processes do not compliment the asks on broadband roll out. Put simply, delays put in place by current regulations are counter-productive to street works management and government targets. I firmly believe that collaboration can go much further, and would like to see a greater emphasis on this as we continue to work towards the government infrastructure targets. In particular, we must see greater investment in innovation as a collaborative policy, with the utilities sector being afforded the opportunity to work with highways authorities to implement newer ways of working which utilise new and innovative materials. The freedom to do this collaboratively will drive up the amount of work we can undertake, helping us to play our part in delivering gigabit-capable broadband to more people.

The response to Covid-19 has seen the very best of governing institutions and industry pulling together to work collaboratively in the national interest. If we are to achieve our infrastructure priorities, we need to continue these efforts by showing an eagerness to place collaboration at the heart of work as we emerge from the pandemic and rebuild our country.