BT boss warns Ofcom’s indecision is costing UK

Billy Bambrough
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The Openreach debate has been raging for almost two years now
The Openreach debate has been raging for almost two years now (Source: Getty)

Gavin Patterson, the chief executive of BT, has warned that indecision over its control of Openreach is costing the UK economy.

The communications regulator Ofcom is currently weighing to what extent BT will have to separate Openreach after its consultation closed in October.

BT has promised £6bn of investment over the next three years in the UK’s broadband infrastructure once the company comes to an agreement with the watchdog.

Read more: BT investor calls for talks over Openreach arm

“At a time when the economy needs everything behind it, to ensure that we’re able to ride out the uncertainty that exists in the Brexit world, we’re sitting here ready to invest £6bn over the next three years and it’s better that we get on and do that,” Patterson told the Sunday Telegraph.

The spectre of what's known as structural separation of Openreach from BT has been hanging over the company for years.

“There aren’t many companies that are prepared to bet on the UK to that extent,” he added.

BT has suggested ring-fencing the business, creating a separate board with an independent chairman, and a series of new processes around budgets and how they are set and allocated.

Ofcom – which is leaning away from full separation of the unit – wants BT to go further, by forcing Openreach’s boss to report directly to BT’s board, and take ownership of its thousands of employees, assets, and pension risk. In September Ofcom recommended the division become legally separated within the group, but remaining under the BT umbrella.

Ofcom’s ongoing indecision has weighed on BT’s share price over the last year, which is down by almost 30 per cent.

Read more: Economic think tank calls for Openreach to be carved out from BT

“The uncertainty is not good for BT. Investors really do need this certainty to be able to make some of these investments and we need to keep that in mind,” Patterson said in the interview.

BT’s rivals, who rely on Openreach to service their own customers, have campagined for it to be hived off from BT entirely.

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