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Openreach – the infrastructure arm of BT – has appointed Sir Brendan Barber and Edward Astle as independent members of a newly formed Board to oversee strategy, investment and service delivery at the UK’s leading digital infrastructure company. BT is currently under pressure from regulator Ofcom to divest the unit completely.
Barber, former General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress and current chair of Acas, and Astle, a former Board member of National Grid, attended the inaugural meeting of the Openreach Board on January 31st 2017. The Board was chaired by Mike McTighe, who was appointed independent Chairman of Openreach in December 2016. A fourth independent non-executive is set to be announced imminently with a specific focus on customer service.
Establishing the new Board is central to governance reforms that Openreach has been implementing to become a more transparent and autonomous business. The reorganisation programme will create increased operational and management independence for Openreach.
Mike McTighe, Chairman of Openreach, said: “Openreach’s network and connectivity underpins Britain’s digital economy and we know that our customers have very high expectations of us.
“I understand that customers sometimes feel let down by Openreach because we haven’t always delivered the service they expect or that we hope to provide. We have made a lot of progress since Clive Selley joined as CEO a year ago – for example on halving the number of missed appointments, making our fibre network available to millions more people and accelerating our plan to introduce a new generation of ultrafast technology. But we need to do more to re-build trust and credibility. This will be the Board’s focus and we are currently in consultation with BT Group about agreeing the plan to deliver better service, broader coverage and faster speeds for consumers and businesses across the country.”
“We are determined to meet our customers’ expectations and to strengthen the autonomy, governance and transparency of Openreach to facilitate the delivery of better outcomes for everyone who has a stake in our business.
The Board will be responsible for setting Openreach’s strategy and overseeing its performance, making sure it treats all customers equally whilst investing in better service, broader coverage and faster broadband speeds for the entire UK. It will have an independent majority whose appointments have been discussed with Ofcom.
Clive Selley, Openreach Chief Executive; Clare Sadlier, Openreach Chief Finance Officer; and Simon Lowth, BT Group Finance Director will also join the Openreach Board. Selley will report to the Openreach Chairman, with accountability to the BT Chief Executive on issues relating to BT’s responsibilities as a publicly listed company.
To further strengthen governance, Openreach will establish committees needed to operate to the highest standards of corporate governance. In particular, a new Openreach Board Audit, Risk and Compliance Committee (OBARCC) will be established. The OBARCC will hold the business to account and regularly hear representations from customers, as well as conducting an annual review of Openreach compliance and publish its findings.
Barber has been Chair of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) since January 2014 and brings a wealth of experience in employment relations, having also been General Secretary of the TUC from 2003 to 2012. He also serves on the Banking Standards Board (2015-).
Astle has a distinguished history in the telecoms and utilities sector, having served on the Boards, and run substantial divisions, of Cable and Wireless (1989 to 1997), BICC (1997 to 1999) and National Grid (2001 to 2008). He was Pro Rector Enterprise at Imperial College London from 2008 to 2013 and has been an independent member of Equality of Access Board since 2013, so he brings a detailed understanding of the industry, and particularly the regulatory and compliance obligations being adopted by Openreach.