Saturday Essay: Using Digital Connectivity & Focus On Sustainability To Help Drive A Covid-19 Economic Recovery
Liz Needleman, BT Group regional lead for the North of England,
BT has kept the nation connected during the Covid-19 pandemic
believes there is cause for optimism and looks at how digital connectivity and a focus on sustainability can help drive a Covid-19 economic recovery
As we all try our best to keep positive while we navigate through the third national Covid-19 lockdown, it’s sometimes difficult to think back to what life used to be like.
The pandemic has, of course, caused suffering for many people. Tragically, thousands of people have lost their lives to this dreadful virus and it’s led to thousands more losing their jobs or entering the furlough scheme as a result of shops and businesses being forced to close for long periods.
But, despite the huge damage that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused from a health, social and economic perspective, there are causes for optimism.
The adoption of digital technology has been fast-tracked by several years as many businesses have invested in their online presence in order to survive, and many people and businesses across the North of England have adapted to remote working too. All this has helped to keep the economy moving despite tremendous challenges.
Digital connectivity has enabled millions of people to work from home
As a global telecoms and technology company, which is a major employer in the UK, BT Group has also been investing during the pandemic - both in our fixed and mobile networks. While the full fibre network is expanded, we are connecting people and businesses across the UK to the best possible connectivity and phasing out old, legacy technologies. We are investing in a network that is ready for the future – with 5G, full fibre, and the new high definition Digital Voice services connecting millions of homes and businesses to advanced converged networks across the UK by 2025.
Through EE, which is part of BT Group, we are rolling out 5G services at a rapid pace with 125 towns and cities across the UK already connected, including 15 places across the Yorkshire and The Humber region such as Leeds, Sheffield, Wakefield, and most recently Halifax. A number of places in the North West have also received 5G, including Manchester, Liverpool and Blackpool.
Not only will 5G provide faster speeds and more reliable connections for consumers but it will also provide huge benefits for businesses and industry as well. The deployment of 5G technology across the region will enable true end-to-end connectivity. In real terms, this can translate to smarter networks, where transport can move as efficiently as possible reducing congestion and delays; a revolution in healthcare, enabling diagnoses and treatment to be delivered remotely; and ultimately a complete re-thinking of the delivery of public services.
5G speed test
In addition to the rollout of 5G, we have continued to bring 4G to more places, including rural areas, with EE’s network now reaching 85 per cent of the UK. More than 95 per cent of the UK also has access to superfast broadband. BT Group is committed to delivering full fibre across the country and, with the right fiscal, regulatory and legislative enablers in place, are ready to make the biggest communications infrastructure investment in the UK in a generation. When combined, these technologies; 5G; 4G and fibre broadband, will provide the UK with a digital infrastructure that will connect millions and help drive future economic growth.
At BT, we strongly support the accelerated opportunities that the Covid-19 pandemic presents for a green growth recovery and see a significant role for low carbon digital enabling technologies to help the Government meet its 2050 net-zero target. This includes environmental monitoring and traffic optimisations sensors that integrate into street furniture and smart building energy management technology to cover both social housing and public buildings, and which are capable of utilising Internet of Things (IoT) technology. In transport, we are exploring innovative products and solutions that can demonstrate the positive impact of alternatives to travel by private or company vehicles, including remote diagnostics or alternative reality, virtual reality and immersive experiences via 5G.
This sustainable approach is nothing new for BT as we have led on climate action for over 28 years. In fact, we were one of the first companies in the world to adopt science-based targets, directly linking our own goals to the overall level of emissions needed to limit the most harmful impacts of the climate crisis. As part of the transition to a low carbon business model, we have pledged to become a net zero carbon emissions business by 2045 and have set targets in line with the most ambitious aim of the COP21 Paris Agreement – linking targets to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
I am very proud to work for an organisation that is serious about reducing its carbon footprint and I would encourage more businesses and organisations to join us in working towards a net zero future. Alongside this, our investment in full fibre and 5G mobile will underpin permanent changes to the way people live and work. They will also support the new technologies capable of moving us to a low-carbon economy – whether that’s home-working, developing smart cities or enabling the Internet of Things.
BT contact centre colleague
In a bid to drive emissions down, Openreach, which has the second largest commercial fleet in the UK is aiming to switch out a third of its 27,000 combustion engine vehicles to electric by 2025. With 33,000 vehicles, the entire BT Group fleet accounts for two thirds of its operational emissions. We’re committed to make the transition from conventional diesel and petrol vehicles to those that run on electricity and alternative fuels. We aim to use electric vehicles (EVs) where this is the best technical and economic solution. We’re also working to make our existing fleet more efficient. We replace older vehicles on an annual basis with new vehicles which meet the latest emissions standards, and coupled with lighter equipment racks, the latest models can cut fuel use and emissions. We’re also using telematics technology to help drivers make fuel go further and we’re trialling specialist ‘green packs’ that use batteries rather than diesel engines to power roadside engineering equipment.
Despite the challenges we have all faced during the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s clear that by working together we can help get the country, and the economy, back on the road to recovery. On that note I also want to draw attention to the publication of a new report by consultancy firm Hatch which has found that BT Group added more than £24 billion to the UK economy in the last financial year. In Yorkshire and The Humber and the North West, we are estimated to add £3 billion to the economy and support more than 35,000 jobs through direct and indirect effects – a huge amount!
BT's Doncaster contact centre is undergoing a multi-million refurbishment
In the two regions, the Group directly employs more than 14,000 people, including one in every eight employees in the IT and communications sector in the North West, and one in every 10 in Yorkshire and The Humber. We employ many people in our contact centres in the area, which include Accrington, Lancaster and Blackburn, as well as our Doncaster one currently undergoing a multi-million refurbishment, and the Plusnet centre in Sheffield. BT also has a significant presence in Leeds.
I am really excited about the revamp of our Doncaster centre, which is now only a few months away from completion. It will provide a fantastic workplace for over 1,000 colleagues, which is nearly double the number of people we currently have based there. The investment in Doncaster is part of our Better Workplace Programme – the largest workplace improvement and consolidation scheme of its type ever undertaken in the UK. Under the programme we will consolidate our UK footprint of more than 300 locations to around 30. We’ve already announced several other locations including Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol. We also plan to open a new HQ in London later in 2021.
Through a smaller footprint of modern, future-fit buildings; converting more vehicles in the BT Group fleet to electric vehicles; and working with our own suppliers and customers to reduce carbon emissions, we are in a great position to help lead the reboot of the economy. We want to see greater investment in infrastructure, support for UK manufacturing and a focus on green technologies - helping to create decent jobs and sustainable growth.
The North of England has a thriving digital economy. Through our investment in digital network infrastructure we are laying the foundations for the dawn of an era of even more innovation and advances in technology, all with a respectful focus on the environment and sustainability.
It’s something that is giving me hope even in these troubling times.