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Labour looks at nationalising BT following proposal from Corbyn ally

Ben Gartside
Reporter
The Marine One helicopter flies past the BT Tower. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

The office of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is considering policy proposals detailing the nationalisation of BT (BT-A.L) drawn up by the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU), multiple sources have told Yahoo Finance UK.

According to current market prices, a nationalisation of BT with full compensation would cost £19.4bn ($24.6bn).

The CWU drew up their proposals following their 2018 General Conference. In the motion, it noted: “as a Union we should seek an equally important commitment from Labour on public ownership within the telecoms industry. We therefore instruct the NEC to actively promote the case for a new model of public ownership that includes democratic control in the postal and telecoms sectors in the interests of workers and customers, and to advance this policy within the TUC and the Labour Party.”

Sources in both the CWU and Labour confirmed that the policy was circulated following the conference, and was circulated with Corbyn’s office around six months ago.

One source familiar with the policy paper said it was “pretty blue sky thinking,” and said key shadow cabinet members would be supportive of the policy, however Corbyn’s office were sceptical. A source close to Corbyn told Yahoo Finance UK that it was standard for unions to push for policies adopted at their conferences, and that it was not currently Labour policy.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and his team are thought to be keener on the policy, having been enthusiastic about democratic ownership proposals, as is Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey. Sources close to McDonnell maintain that there are numerous way industries could be brought into public ownership, including via the use of methods such as worker co-operatives.

McDonnell and Long-Bailey previously commissioned the ‘Alternative Models of Ownership’ discussion paper as shadow cabinet members, which discussed the potential nationalisation of telecoms companies.

The paper noted how nationalised companies, or ‘State Owned Enterprises’ (SOEs), are most commonly found in naturally occurring monopolies, such as telecoms. The paper later stated: “The paucity of internet and telecoms provision in much of the UK, compared to other countries is testimony to the inequalities produced by a profit oriented system that does not invest sufficiently in national service provision. Providing a nationalised state owned service in such circumstances is more equitable.”

Sources close to McDonnell’s office do not believe that there would be any legal issues in future nationalisation, including a potential nationalisation of BT.