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Written by David Brunnen   
Monday, 05 December 2011 08:55

Leave it to X ?

Communications Management AssociationBelief in market forces, the hallowed ground of regulators, and the deficiencies of narrowly defined economic analysis, keeps surfacing in the most unlikely of places.

BBC Radio 4's Food Programme included the ‘popular Westminster joke’ that national food policy had been reduced to one of “Leave it to Tesco’s” – this in a programme celebrating, in spite of supermarket dominance, the resurgence of local food markets, the remarkable range of values unleashed by municipal enterprise and the creation of ‘social capital’.

But no matter how often we have cause to wonder at our limited grasp of the way the world really works, there is still a perverse tendency to ignore the obvious. In reams of leaked and actual reports of the Chancellor’s intentions, investment in ‘infrastructure’ was predominantly explained as meaning more or better roads and rail. The notion of broadband access as ‘infrastructure’ was very much a marginal minority afterthought.

Even world-weary commentators have difficulty in placing access networks as an essential part of the economic fabric. In a piece on ‘Europe’s beacon of light: what we can learn from the Swedish model’ (IoS 4th December) Hamish McRae identifies that country’s success (credit worthiness, strong exports, relatively low unemployment) as attributable to (a) not being in the Euro and (b) strong financial regulation. No mention here of municipal enterprise, high quality broadband access networks or the ready availability of ‘dark fibre’ to allow DIY innovation in business enterprise and public sector services delivery. No mention either of the ‘uncaptured values’ that feature so highly in their research into the community benefits of infrastructure investment.

It is true, as Hamish rightly notes, that ‘Britons sometimes look enviously at Sweden’s welfare model not just for the quality of its services but for its flexibility too’, but underlying and enabling that quality and flexibility (in a sparsely populated country frozen for nearly half the year) is a very basic determination to invest for the future – and to do it in one sensible step instead of some incremental process that never quite manages to get ahead of perceived demand.

I would also agree with Hamish that the pain in Sweden of the early 1990’s did indeed teach the need for financial rigour. Their need for a high quality infrastructure was not however lost with the passage of time.  It is not surprising that the Swedish tag line for that country’s largest public sector network is a simple statement of perceived need – it translates as ‘Ideas are born where they are needed most’.

They (and indeed other Scandinavian nations) did not get to have a strong global position in future-proofed network excellence with a simple policy of ‘Leave it to X’.



This editorial was written for the UK's Communications Management Association whose members in aggregate spend over £13bn per annum on networked products and services.

The reference to 'uncaptured values' is taken from a presentation by Crister Matson during the NextGen 11 conference and exhibition.  A short video interview is also available via YouTube and NextGen TV.   Other presentations from NextGen 11 are available via the NextGen website.

Readers of this editorial also viewed 'Fitness for Purpose'

Last Updated on Monday, 05 December 2011 09:40

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