BT fined maximum £50,000 a third time for botched roadworks

Openreach, BT Group’s digital network business, is expanding broadband across Scotland.Openreach, BT Group’s digital network business, is expanding broadband across Scotland.
Openreach, BT Group’s digital network business, is expanding broadband across Scotland.
Road Works Commissioner Angus Carmichael said Openreach’s continued failings were “completely unacceptable”

BT Group’s digital network business was today fined the maximum £50,000 Mr Carmichael could impose for failing to comply with their obligations over the laying of pipes and cables under roads.

It followed checks to see whether roads across Scotland were reinstated with the correct materials, layer depths and compaction after being dug up.

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Openreach achieved a pass rate in Edinburgh of only 63 per cent compared to 78 per cent across Scotland.

Scottish Road Works Commissioner has previously fined Openreach a maximum £50,000.Scottish Road Works Commissioner has previously fined Openreach a maximum £50,000.
Scottish Road Works Commissioner has previously fined Openreach a maximum £50,000.

BT has already been fined £38,500 in 2012, £30,000 in 2014 and £50,000 in 2017 for similar failings.

It was also fined £50,000 in 2013 for separate failings involving unsafe working practices in the Highlands such as leaving gaping holes in pavements without barriers or signs.

‘Clear warning’

Other firms which failed the checks were Virgin Media, which has been fined £34,000, while Last Mile Asset Management and ES Pipelines were fined £3,000, and Network Rail and GTC £2,000.

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Mr Carmichael said the failings were “completely unacceptable and I hope these penalties serve as a clear warning”.

He said: "All organisations penalised have provided assurances that processes are being modified to demonstrate early improvement.

"My office will continue to scrutinise their performance closely.

"Failed reinstatements reduce the serviceable life of the road, leading to further road works to replace the failed sections, additional costs to roads authorities and unnecessary disruption and inconvenience to road users.

‘Extremely disappointed’

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“I am extremely disappointed with the poor performance of a number of utility companies,specifically where their performance has declined and/or they have previously received a penalty for a similar breach of the legislation.

"In particular, large companies operating in the telecommunications sector, specifically Virgin Media and BT.

“Despite ongoing engagement with senior management in Openreach, acting on behalf of BT, performance has not improved to the required standard of 90 per cent, with the organisation recording substandard results.

"In view of their continuing poor performance, which demonstrates only minor improvement, I have no option other than to apply the maximum penalty available to me of £50,000 once again.”

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Mr Carmichael said the performance Virgin Media, which had also been previously fined, had also fallen back.

He also described the performance of the other four firms as “unacceptable and in need of early improvement”.

‘Improvement is possible’

However, he said it was encouraging that several smaller telecoms firms had performed well, such as CityFibre, Arqiva, SSE Telecoms and Vodafone.

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Mr Carmichael said the main water, gas and electricity organisations had achieved pass rates, “demonstrating improvement is possible and can be maintained”.

Neil Greig, the Scotland-based policy and research manager of motoring group IAM RoadSmart, said: “This proactive action on the long-term performance of utilities digging up the road is just the sort of practical intervention we want to see from the commissioner.

Name and shame

"The fines probably won’t have much impact financially on these big organisations but the public naming and shaming should.

"If other companies can get it right, there is no reason why these six shouldn’t be able to do it properly as well.”

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Brendan Dick, chair of the Openreach board in Scotland, said: “We’re really disappointed our results fall short of the standard expected.

“We’ve been working closely with the commissioner’s team on roadworks improvements and there’s been some really good progress in other areas.

“Our pass rate has increased from 69 per cent in 2015-16 to 78 per cent in 2018-19, but we recognise this still isn’t good enough.

“We intend to fix defects by the end of September.

‘Committed to doing better’

“As part of our improvement plan, we’ve appointed an independent company to undertake coring [sampling checks] on our behalf.

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"This will help us swiftly identify and correct any shortcomings by our own teams and contractors.

"We’re also implementing a reinstatement quality plan, which will be overseen by our Scotland board.

“We’re committed to doing better and thank the commissioner’s team for their guidance and support in working with us to make the necessary changes.”

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