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Chairman's message

Sir Christopher Bland

Sir Christopher Bland, Chairman, reports on a year in which BT further reduced debt, grew its dividend significantly and continued to invest in the future.

The year

This has been a really good year for BT. We said 12 months ago that, in a turbulent market, your company had taken the hard decisions and necessary actions early. Events have shown that we were right to do so and that we have now established a strong base for sustainable growth. Earnings per share in the year increased by 61% and net debt reduced by over £4 billion. The group generated free cash flow of £1.7 billion. The full year dividend of 6.5 pence per share reflects the group’s financial performance, operational strength and confidence in the future.

In the past two years, our net debt has been reduced from £27.9 billion as at 31 March 2001 to £9.6 billion as at 31 March 2003, a reduction of 66%. The foundations of the progress in 2003 were the achievement of operating efficiencies and the sale of non-core assets, such as our stake in Cegetel, which we sold for £2.6 billion. Progress was sustained by improving service in our traditional markets, and our growing success in such new-wave markets as broadband, mobility, information and communications technology (ICT) and solutions. We continue to invest in and to transform our network to help take our 20 million customers into a future shaped by new communications possibilities.

Purpose and responsibilities

As a business, our purpose is to connect the worlds of our customers. In achieving that purpose we will provide the greatest customer satisfaction and enjoy commercial success if we make every experience of our services simple and complete.

Your company’s broader responsibilities include the maintenance of a good reputation, definitive standards of governance and a coherent corporate social responsibility programme, all vital to encouraging investors to put their trust in us, customers to buy from us and the best people to work for us. This sense of responsibility runs through the whole of our organisation.

Pensions

BT takes its responsibilities to its pensioners, existing and prospective, very seriously. The result of a recent valuation of the main BT pension scheme, carried out by the independent actuary appointed by the Scheme trustees, showed a funding deficit of £2.1 billion. This compares to £1 billion at the last formal valuation in 1999. BT has agreed it will make good this deficit with additional annual payments of £232 million, compared to the £200 million additional annual payments that BT has been making.

Strength of the BT Pension Scheme

The BT Pension Scheme, which has been closed to new members since 31 March 2001, is backed by BT. The Scheme assets are controlled by trustees who must act in the best interests of its members. Any deficit has to be made good by the company, and no changes can be made to the rules and benefits that apply to Scheme members without the agreement of the trustees.

Company Board

I am delighted to welcome Clay Brendish, former deputy chairman of CMG plc, and founder and former executive chairman of Admiral plc, to the Board. Clay brings with him a wealth of experience in the information technology industry. His appointment with effect from 1 September 2002, on which shareholders will have the opportunity to vote at this year’s AGM, means that independent non-executive directors constitute a majority on your Board.

People and prospects

Finally, we would like to thank our customers, our shareholders and our people for their continued confidence in and loyalty to the company. We are recognising the efforts of our people in meeting BT’s performance targets through awarding them 2% of the pre-tax profits, £36 million, in the form of BT shares.

We believe the company is well placed – financially, operationally and managerially – to meet new challenges and to seize new opportunities.

Sir Christopher Bland

Sir Christopher Bland
Chairman
21 May 2003

Key events and achievements
June 2002
Launch of Openzone, BT’s public wireless LAN hotspot service

September 2002
The UK’s most intensive TV campaign stimulates demand for broadband

November 2002
BT wins €1 billion contract to manage and develop Unilever’s global communications infrastructure

January 2003
Sale of stake in Cegetel for £2.6 billion

April 2003
BT announces that it has connected more than 800,000 broadband customers

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