A seemingly technical and innocuous government consultation was found to contain a proposal which would have cost the utilities’ sector hundreds of millions of pounds if enacted. The line, found buried in a Department for Transport (DfT) review, proposed to more than double the period guaranteeing street works completed by utility firms from two to five years.
WA was asked by the trade body representing utilities and their contractors on street works issues to help stop the extension.
We faced a significant challenge in achieving this: during a meeting with the Roads Minister, we learnt that government was minded to support the extension of guarantee periods.
To overcome this obstacle, we developed a strategy to show the profound financial impact the extension would have on utilities and the consequences for levels of infrastructure investment, particularly in gigabit-capable broadband – a top priority for government.
As well as drafting the official industry response, WA acted quickly to develop a messaging toolkit for the Street Works UK membership, outlining the proposed changes and the cost to industry. As part of this, WA set out a series of messages for members to use, highlighting the 10%-15% rise in expected cost for each member, which would ultimately have an impact on consumer bills. This coordination meant we multiplied the volume of the campaign with trade body and individual member communications delivering a decisive message to ministers and officials.
We also built and mobilised a group of third-party advocates in support of the utility sector’s message to raise the profile of what could be seen as a mere low-brow ‘technical’ campaign – moving the conversation on to a political level.
This included engagement with the Broadband Minister to highlight the guarantee period specifically as a potential barrier to faster rollout of gigabit-capable broadband and regular briefing of officials in the Barrier Busting Taskforce within the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). DCMS was then able to raise its concerns with DfT and exert pressure within government.
After a year of intense campaigning, the government published its response to the consultation and chose to leave the guarantee period at two years.
The success of this campaign can be noted in DfT’s rationale for its final decision, which stated that the utilities’ sector had raised a series of important issues that had been investigated further, including the overall financial impact on infrastructure investment. These concerns had been the basis of the messaging toolkit supplied to Street Works UK members, and had played a fundamental part in turning the tide against a costly change.