Published On: Sat, Sep 13th, 2014

Telecoms Giants In Talks On Independence Vote

Some of Britain’s biggest telecoms groups are posed to deliver a collective warning that an independent Scotland would dramatically inflate their costs, raising the spectre of across-the-board price rises for consumers north of the border.

Telecoms Giants In Talks

Sky News has learnt that BT, EE, O2, TalkTalk and Vodafone are in talks about a joint statement that would refer to “the inevitability of cost increases” for operators as a consequence of uncertainties over regulation and the currency that Scotland would use.

The letter is understood to be being co-ordinated by the CBI, whose president, Sir Mike Rake, is also chairman of BT Group. A source said John Cridland, the CBI director-general, was involved in the talks.

Senior telecoms industry sources confirmed the discussions and said that a statement could be issued as soon as Friday afternoon if agreement could be reached on the wording.

As currently drafted, it is understood to focus on cost increases, although one executive said: “It doesn’t take a genius to work out that that would translate into price rises.

“You are talking about a market of five million people rather than 62 million, a new regulator and even possibly a price freeze. How could prices not go up?”

At least two of the companies are said to be undecided about whether to put their names to the statement, reflecting the anxiety with which the bosses of major UK companies are treating the Scottish independence debate.

EE has previously said: “Independence is entirely an issue for the Scottish people. Any political changes could of course add complexity to our operations and for this reason we are keeping a close eye on the referendum.  We remain fully committed to our network, employees and customers in Scotland.”

The need to agree wording that is acceptable to all of the companies means the statement could be delayed or even abandoned if there is not deemed to be sufficient support for it across the industry, one person said.

BT, which has an obligation to deliver telecoms services across the UK under the terms of its licence, is understood to be particularly concerned about the cost implications of an independent Scotland.

It remains unclear whether there would be a separate regulator for the telecoms industry, how it would operate, or what infrastructure commitments operators would be required to make.

In his CBI capacity, Sir Mike told the Financial Times on Friday there would be a “decade of uncertainty” if Scotland voted to secede from the UK.

A separate statement signed by retail bosses including Sir Ian Cheshire, chief executive of B&Q-owner Kingfisher, and Marc Bolland of Marks & Spencer is also due to be published in the next 24 hours.

The prospective interventions of the telecoms and retail bosses also underlines the relative success David Cameron has had since he urged business leaders on Monday night to speak out in favour of the union.

Earlier this week, a succession of Scottish-domiciled banks including Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland, TSB and Tesco Bank said they would move their legal registration or establish new English legal entities if Scotland votes Yes next week.

The co-ordinated appearance of these industry announcements has angered Alex Salmond, leader of the independence movement, who has accused the Prime Minister and industry bosses of “scaremongering” to rally support for a No vote.