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BT's vices at risk of turning into habits

British Telecom is developing a habit for unpleasant surprises

picture of Gavin Patterson
Gavin Patterson has overseen big disappointments at BT

British Telecom is developing a habit for unpleasant surprises and we can only hope the management changes announced today will stop the trend.

Marc Allera, the head of mobile arm EE, is to become the chief executive of a merged EE/BT consumer business while Cathryn Ross joins from Ofwat as Director of Regulatory Affairs.

As has been the trend recently, the appointments were soon overshadowed by news of a further £225mln Italian fraud-related payment to stop the previous owners of EE taking the telecoms group to court.

READ: BT Group shares down as it posts big drop in headline profits after further Italy charge, underlying fall as expected

That follows on the £530mln set aside initially for the Italian scandal when it was first revealed in January.

EE’s vendors, Orange and Deutsche Telekom, had taken a chunk of BT shares as payment and some demand for recompense was hardly a surprise given the share price slide since.

What was more surprising was that BT chief executive Gavin Patterson's comment that the prospect of a claim had ‘only recently’ come up even though both Orange and Deutsche have already booked losses on the shares they received for EE.

To think that no further demand would be forthcoming looks like wishful thinking.

It might also reflect the state of mind at BT headquarters currently as it battles many issues on multiple fronts - Ofcom over Openreach and juggling its dividend and pension commitments to name two.

A note at the bottom of today’s update indicted the pension deficit had now edged up to £8bn.

Perhaps Allera and Ross can provide a steadying hand, but many investors already will be looking ahead to former Rio Tinto man Jan du Plessis taking over as chairman in November to add some much-needed stability.

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