Belfast Telegraph

BT holds AGM after scandal in Italian arm hit shares and profits

Telecoms giant BT will face shareholders on Wednesday as it looks to recover after a costly Italian accounting scandal earlier this year.

Investors will gather for the group's annual general meeting in London just six months after BT first revealed the accounting debacle, which saw it book a £530 million write-down and wiped £ 8 billion off its stock market value in January.

It comes amid reports BT has hired consultants McKinsey to conduct a review that could see a radical corporate shake-up.

One of the options said to be under consideration is the merger of its struggling global services unit with its business and public sector division.

It could be a tumultuous last AGM for chairman Sir Mike Rake before he stands down after 10 years at the helm, to be succeeded by Rio Tinto chairman Jan du Plessis.

The affair at BT Italia has hit shares and profits, while a lso claiming the scalp of BT's European head Corrado Sciolla.

It also saw chief executive Gavin Patterson and outgoing finance boss Tony Chanmugam stripped of their annual bonuses.

The group revealed annual profits plunged 19% to £2.3 billion earlier this year as its woes were compounded by a £342 million Ofcom fine and related compensation payments.

BT has also announced 4,000 job losses worldwide as part of a restructuring of its Global Services unit.

The AGM is likely to see investor anger over the accounting scandal, with o ne of BT's major shareholders, Royal London Asset Management , raising concerns over "governance and oversight" of the auditors in charge at the time.

PwC has been lined up to replace KPMG as auditor after 2017-18, but Royal London - which has a stake in BT worth around £236 million - plans to abstain on the re-election of the chairman of BT's audit committee.

Ashley Hamilton Claxton, corporate governance manager at Royal London, said: "We welcome the steps taken by the board to adjust executive pay following the accounting irregularities in BT's Italian operations and the pay proposals have our full support this year.

"Although management has been swift to address the issues in the Italian business, we have abstained on the re-election of the auditors and the re-election of the chairman of the audit committee to reflect our concerns about the governance and oversight of the audit."

Trade union Prospect has also said it will be lobbying BT's shareholders as they arrive for the AGM in London, calling for support in demanding a U-turn on pay freeze plans.

Prospect is threatening strike action over the "divisive" decision to hold pay for managerial and specialist staff, which other BT employees have received a 2.6% increase.