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Dido Harding quits TalkTalk role to focus on 'public service'

Dido Harding is to step down as chief executive of TalkTalk after seven years at the telecoms firm as she prepares to play a more active role in public life.

She will leave the position in May and be succeeded by the managing director of the group's consumer division, Tristia Harrison.

Ms Harding, a Conservative life peer, said she intends to focus more on "activities in public service".

She said: "After seven extraordinary and fulfilling years, during which we have transformed TalkTalk's customer experience and laid the foundations for long-term growth, I've decided it's time for me to start handing over the reins at TalkTalk and focus more on my activities in public service."

As part of a board shake-up, the group's founder, Sir Charles Dunstone, will step up from chairman to executive chairman. He will relinquish his chairmanship of retailer Dixons Carphone as a result.

Charles Bligh, managing director of TalkTalk Business, will become chief operating officer.

Shares rose over 6% in morning trading on the news.

Under Ms Harding's watch, TalkTalk was stung by a cyber attack in 2015, which saw the personal data of nearly 160,000 people accessed by hackers.

The debacle was branded a ''car crash'' by the then information commissioner Christopher Graham, who said it should send a warning shot to the industry.

The attack led to tens of thousands of customers deserting the firm and cost it £60 million.

George Salmon, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: "Sir Charles Dunstone will be the man to lead the group forwards. His main challenges will be rebuilding trust in the brand and improving relationships with customers. After all, the dark days of the cyber attack are still pretty fresh in people's minds."

Sir Charles said: "Dido has been a tireless, energetic and effective force for good from the day she joined TalkTalk.

"As a result of her leadership and total commitment to all of us who work here and our customers, she has helped transform TalkTalk into a much stronger business."

Ms Harding's departure was announced alongside a third-quarter trading update which saw group revenue fall from £459 million to £435 million, blamed on the impact of re-contracting and re-pricing legacy tariffs.

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