It’s the cover version of “It Must be Love” by Madness that forms the soundtrack of one of BT’s most recent advertising campaigns. “I never thought I’d feel this way, the way I feel about you,” goes the singing of Suggs. “As soon as I wake up every night, every day, I know that it’s you I need to take the blues away.” Ahh, and now I’m back in the 80s!
And so, aware of BT’s commitment “every night, every day” and sure that they wouldn’t want to make me or anyone blue, I made a simple request. Many will be aware of the impact that drug dealing and drug use is having upon the community of Butetown.
It is a complex situation requiring a complex, multi-agency approach. Some things take time. However, within this complex network of answers and solutions actually lie some very small and achievable goals.
In Butetown you will find four public payphones, one in Alice Street, two at Loudon Square, and the other on Christina Street (just 160 metres away, two minutes’ walk). Two of the phone boxes in particular are well known to be associated with drug dealing and drug use.
Aware that I was not the first to take up the challenge, on 31st August 2018 I rang BT to ask about the process to request the removal of a public payphone. I was told that the payphone in question wasn’t scheduled to be removed, but I was given an email address, and so began two weeks of email exchanges with BT.
The outcome was set from the outset: “We will not remove this phonebox.” It’s worth remembering that a large amount of income is not necessarily made from calls made but from using the payphones for advertising. An example of this problem can be found in the London Borough of Westminster in this online article: https://www.westminster.gov.uk/westminster-war-whack-mole-phone-boxes – where it is stated “The council (i.e Westminster) believes that these proposals offer very little benefit to the public, particularly as many of the proposed telephone boxes don’t even offer wi-fi or internet connectivity. Despite claims these phone boxes are targeted at low income families, the minimum charge for a call in some kiosks is £1 cash or £2 via payment card. The council feels the prime purpose of the installations is to provide large advertisements in the street.”
“Every Moment of Every Day, we’ll help you be there” is the strapline of BT’s advertising campaign. Surely, it must be love? Read on then – for this is a love story like no other.
I am writing to request the removal of a public telephone box at Christina Street (Bute Street) Cardiff (telephone number 02920464128)
There is an extremely high level of drug dealing and drug use in the area and it is the observation of many residents that this phone is used primarily if not exclusively by people engaged in such activity. The phone box is in close proximity to an area where known individuals deal in drugs throughout the day and night. It has created a very disturbing and often dangerous situation for
many residents particularly children.
In the last month I alone have reported over 27 drug related incidents and this is replicated across Butetown. We are trying to address the situation with practical solutions and we believe that one such solution is the removal of the telephone box to which I refer.
I look forward to hearing from you and am happy to provide further information and details which could strengthen this application.
Thank you for your email.
I have reviewed this & there are no plans for the removal of this payphone as it generates a fair amount of revenue through phone usage & advertisement.
Please report all anti social behaviour to your local police.
DH / Team Member, Ventures Voice Services
Dear Mr H
Thanks you for your email although, as you may imagine, I am disappointed by its content.
All anti-social behaviour is consistently reported to the police. Some of this behaviour and crime is related to the phone box in question. I am sure that the phone box generates, as you say, a fair amount of income through advertising although I wonder what these advertisers would think if they knew that their advertisements were keeping a phone box in place which encourages anti social and illegal activities. Our issue is not that a fair amount of income is generated either through advertising and calls – but who is actually using this phone box and for what purpose. I had hoped that BT would have been willing to explore in more dept the moral implications of keeping or removing the phone box and would have given more consideration to a request for its removal.
I knew that there were no plans to remove the phone box as the operator with whom I spoke on my initial call confirmed this. Perhaps you could reconsider your decision as a means of safeguarding members of the local community, particularly children and other vulnerable people. I am happy to provide more evidence of the problems in this community and how removing the phone box would be a socially responsible action.
I am copying in our local councillor and police officer (with whom I have already spoken about the matter) and I look forward to hearing from you in due course.
Thank you for your email but unfortunately this payphone will not be removed as D. said before it a highly used phone and is a prime advertising site
If we can help in anyway with the antisocial behaviour we will
If the police are involved please can you get them to email us and we can discuss what we can do to help
L J /Team Member, Voice Services
Again, I am copying in the local police and the local councillor to this email again.
I do not doubt that it is, as you say, a highly used payphone. Our concern is regarding these users. Also there are other payphones just a few hundred yards away.
I must admit to being very disappointed with your unwillingness to engage with us on this matter. Your offer of helping with anti social behaviour is much appreciated although I believe the only way to do this is to remove the phone.
As a freedom of information request, please can you indicate exactly what you mean by it being a “highly used” phone. How many calls are made in a month, and what revenue do you make from these calls?
On the BT website we are told that “being responsible means doing all the things you’d expect from an ethical business… we never forget to listen to each other and to experts outside our business, either. We think it’s these fresh perspectives that help us learn, grow and prepare for the future.” The BT Way states “acting with integrity has never been more important. We need to do things the right way, every time, without fail. We strengthen BT’s reputation every time we stick to our ethics code. This means we sometimes face touch decisions. We might have to reject new business if it compromised our principles..”
The Ethics code also states that whenever you do business you do your very best to make sure it doesn’t injure or cause damage to anyone. “We have the legal obligation to protect the health and safety of anyone who might be affected by our business.”
I look forward to hearing from you and engaging with you further on this matter.
We are willing to help with this matter as removal is not an option for this payphone , if the police email us direct about the ASB we will do all we can to resolve
We can’t discuss the amount of calls that are made all I can say is it is used a lot during the month
LJ / Team Member, Voice Services
Thanks for your quick response.
I don’t understand why removing the phone is not an option particularly in regard to BT’s Code of Ethics. Perhaps you (or someone else within BT) can respond with this context in mind and explain if your decision has been made within the parameters of the code.
The request for information about the calls was a Freedom of Information Act (2000) request to which you are legally bound. If you cannot respond to this then perhaps you can give a reason before I seek the information via the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Due to our licencing agreement with Ofcom we have to supply a payphone service to the public and are unable to put this kiosk forward for removal
The information about calls is something we are not obliged to give out because we are a PLC company
There is nothing further I can do for you unless you can get the police involved and I can discuss helping them with the ASB
LJ /Team Member, Voice Services
Thank you for your reply. I understand that you may want to end correspondence with me. However, can you tell me a little more about your licensing agreement with Ofcom regarding BT having to supply public phones to the public? There are two public payphones just a few hundred yards away at Loudoun Square.
Receiving clarification about your obligations under Ofcom will be very helpful particularly since the initial reason given by BT for not considering it’s removal was the revenue generated from calls and advertising. If this is an Ofcom matter as you suggest I can involve them in this request.
I’d also welcome some comment on my reference in a previous email to BTs self published code of ethics in regard to this issue.
I very much look forward to hearing from you and appreciate your attention to this matter.
Further to this email sent yesterday, and to offer some clarification, it appears that OFCOM rules come into play “when BT want to remove the one and only call box from a site. By site we mean a 400 metre walking distance surrounding a call box. This means that if there are two phone boxes within 400 metres walk of each other BT can take one away without following our rules.” (Removing Public Call Boxes, a guide to the rules, OFCOM)
Just to clarify that there are two additional phone boxes on the same street – a distance of 160 metres / 2 minutes walk away at Loudoun Square.
L’s told me about your concerns regarding the phone box in Bute Street/Christina Street and I told L I’d reply to you.
I’m really sorry to read about the criminal behaviour taking place in or near the boxes. I fully understand the concerns this causes local residents and your Twitter feed gives evidence of a problem that regrettably isn’t unique to Butetown. Please accept my thanks for continuing to report criminal behaviour to the local policing team. As your Twitter feed states, the issue of the trade in illegal drugs is a “complex problem” with “no immediate solutions”.
Please see below my response to the areas of concern you’ve raised.
Ofcom obliges us to maintain a nationwide public telephone network. We’re realistic. We don’t expect to make our public network significantly profitable but we do need to make it viable if we’re to continue with the service.
We have around 35 000 public telephones. Non-profitable ones are in the majority and will become increasingly so. It’s therefore important that we keep as many profitable public telephones as we can. Without the revenue generated by such boxes we’d struggle to maintain non-profitable ones.
The 400 metre rule is in place to protect little used public telephones in isolated areas where local communities feel there is still a need for them.
BT’s ethical code
We’re regularly asked to remove boxes because of anti-social and criminal behaviour. We refuse such requests for the following reasons:
Removing a box doesn’t address the root cause of criminal and anti-social activities. If we did remove boxes for these reasons, then there’s a strong likelihood the problem will shift to another public telephone.
Local policing teams are best qualified to deal with the root cause of such problems.
There are a number of enforcement options open to councils and policing teams that can exclude individuals from public spaces.
It’s wrong to remove a public service because of the behaviour of a minority. It sends out a message that the criminals have won.
We’ve no way of telling whether calls made from public telephones are illegal. Policing teams can however request call records through the appropriate channels.
How we can help
We do modify public telephones to deter illegal use of them. This box is already without a door and this should help with the identification of offenders. My records don’t show whether there is still shelving inside the box. If there is, please can you let me know and I’ll arrange for it to be removed.
We can also block incoming calls to public telephones. But this request (because of the implications for the emergency services) has to come from the local policing team. Do you have a direct contact within the local policing team? If not, I’ll find one.
I’m not guaranteeing the success of the above two suggestions. But they have helped in the past with similar issues.
I trust the above addresses the issues you’ve raised. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you need any further information.
Thank you for a more in-depth response. It is far more helpful than simply receiving a curt “we will not remove this phonebox” and provides a far more engaging platform upon which the community can talk with large businesses and organisations. It allows communities a voice, and there is always the possibility that this voice will be heard. So thank you for this.
First, you asked a few questions which are easy to answer. Yes we are in touch with the local police officer who will be emailing you soon if he hasn’t already done so. And, yes, the pay phone does have a shelf.
Please be assured that this will be my last direct communication with BT in this matter. The results of our correspondence will be delivered to the local Citizens Cymru Action Group which is meeting in a few weeks. They will be discussing and planning which actions to take forward as we address the issue of drugs in Butetown and our correspondence will be able to inform those discussions.
However, I just wanted to share one or two observations:
Since BT is unwilling to share the actual amount of calls and the revenue generated by them, we can only assume that this is because few phone calls are generally made from there.
Since there are several phone boxes just two mins walk away, and since it has already been stated that revenue is generated by advertising, it is our observation that the pay phone does not serve the local community. Rather, it is a means through which BT can generate revenue by commercial advertising – perhaps to fund phone boxes elsewhere.
We understand that BT has to make a profit or at least make some its services viable (rather than generating large amounts of income from them, particularly in regard to the obligations placed upon you by OFCOM). However, we are very much in the position of caring for individuals, building a strong and safe community, strengthening community cohesion, and protecting and nurturing the welfare of children and young people. In other words, we put people before profits, and so I suppose it is understandable that we will disagree on this matter.
Under these circumstances, we believe that it isn’t wrong to remove a phone box because of the behaviour of a minority, particularly if the phone box doesn’t actually serve the community it is purported to serve. As far as claiming that the criminals have won if the phonebox is removed – rather we believe that the criminals are tolerated and therefore allowed to thrive.
We recognise, as you have also said, that the issues are complex and there is no easy solution. However, there are lots of small actions which can gradually contribute to a longer term and more effective widespread solution, and it is our opinion that removing the phone box would be one of these small steps. We know that it certainly doesn’t solve the root problem of drug dealing and use but it would displace one destructive effect of it.
I still make reference to the 400m rule of OFCOM which I think provides a useful framework when considering the regularity and need of phoneboxes in a particular community or even in the same street.
Once again, thank you so much for taking the time to respond to me in full.
Thank you for your reply.
Call volumes and revenue from public payphones are labelled as “commercially sensitive information” (my apologies for the business jargon) and we usually only share call volumes when we need to consult with a local authority on a proposal to remove a public telephone.
I looked at the call records yesterday and it would be fair to say that the payphone gets used more often than most public telephones. As mentioned it’s not possible for me to say how many of these calls are crime-related.
An engineer will remove the shelf this week or early next and when I hear from the local policing team, I’ll stop incoming calls as from the next working day.
Let’s see if these measures have an impact along with any other actions that are taken following the Action Group’s meeting. Please also pass on my contact details to the group.
Shall we review the situation mid-November? Or sooner if you prefer.
And if there’s anything we can do in the meantime, please let me know.
“Every Moment of Every Day, we’ll help you be there”