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Corporate governance

It is BT’s policy to achieve for all our operations best practice in our standards of business integrity. This includes a commitment to maintaining the highest standards of corporate governance and ethics throughout the group.
     The directors consider that BT has, throughout the year, complied with the provisions set out in section 1 of the 2003 Combined Code on Corporate Governance.

The Board
Composition and role
The Board, which operates as a single team, is currently made up of the part-time Chairman, the Chief Executive, four other executive directors and seven non-executive directors. All of the non-executive directors meet the criteria for independence set out in the Combined Code and are therefore considered by the Board to be independent. It is BT’s policy that the Board will comprise a majority of independent non-executive directors. The directors’ biographies are available in the Board of directors and Operating Committee section.
     The Board’s principal focus is the overall strategic direction, development and control of the group. In support of this the Board approves the group’s values, business practice policies, strategic plans, annual budget, capital expenditure and investments budgets, larger capital expenditure proposals and the group’s overall system of internal controls, governance and compliance authorities. It also has oversight and control of the group’s operating and financial performance. These responsibilities are set out in a formal statement of the Board’s role. The Board has agreed the group’s corporate governance framework, including empowering the company’s key management committee, the Operating Committee, to make decisions on operational and other matters. The roles and powers of this committee are set out later in this report under Principal Board committees. Their powers and the authorities delegated to individual members of the Operating Committee are available to everyone in the group on the group’s intranet site.
     Historically the Board has met every month, except in August. Additionally, it meets on an ad hoc basis to consider matters which are time critical. The Board met 14 times during the 2005 financial year. For the 2006 financial year, and going forward, the standard Board cycle will be nine, not 11, meetings each year.
     The roles of the Chairman and the Chief Executive are separate. They are set out in written job descriptions, approved by the Nominating Committee. In addition to chairing the Board, the Chairman is responsible for consulting the non-executive directors, particularly the Deputy Chairman, on corporate governance issues, matters considered by the Nominating Committee, which the Chairman chairs, and the individual performances of the non-executive directors. The Chairman and the non-executive directors hold regular dinners at which they discuss matters without the executive directors being present. With the Chief Executive and the Secretary, the Chairman ensures the Board is kept properly informed, is consulted on all issues reserved to it and that its decisions are made in a timely and considered way that enables the directors to fulfil their fiduciary duties. The Chairman ensures that the views of the shareholders are known to the Board and considered appropriately. He represents the company in specified strategic and Government relationships, as agreed with the Chief Executive, and generally acts as the bridge between the Board and the Company’s executive team, particularly on the Group’s broad strategic direction. The Chief Executive has final executive responsibility to the Board for the success of the group. The Chairman’s other current significant commitments are shown in his biography. During the 2005 financial year the only change has been his appointment as Chairman of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
     The Secretary manages the provision of timely, accurate and considered information to the Board for its meetings and, in consultation with the Chairman and Chief Executive, at other appropriate times. He recommends to the Chairman and the Chief Executive, for Board consideration where appropriate, the company’s corporate governance policies and practices and is responsible for their communication and implementation. The appointment and removal of the Secretary is a matter for the whole Board. He advises the Board on appropriate procedures for the management of its meetings and duties (and the meetings of the company’s principal committees), as well as the implementation of corporate governance and compliance within the group.

BT’s non-executive directors
The Nominating Committee has agreed and periodically reviews the combination of experience, skills and other attributes which the non-executive directors as a whole are to bring to the Board. This profile is used by the Committee when the appointment of a non-executive director is being considered to assess the suitability of candidates who are put forward by the directors and outside consultants. Short-listed candidates meet the Committee, which then recommends to the Board a candidate for appointment.
     The non-executive directors provide a strong, independent element on the Board. Between them, they bring experience and independent judgement, gained at the most senior levels, of international business operations and strategy, marketing, technology, communications and political and international affairs.
     Sir Anthony Greener, the Deputy Chairman, is the senior independent director. He chairs the Audit and Remuneration committees. In his capacity as the chairman of the Remuneration Committee, he meets with BT’s major institutional shareholders. The Deputy Chairman also continues to be available to discuss matters with institutional shareholders where it would be inappropriate for those discussions to take place with either the Chairman or the Chief Executive. He will also attend, at his discretion and in consultation with the Chairman and the Chief Executive, other meetings with shareholders during the year. The other non-executive directors may attend, at their request, meetings with the company’s major shareholders and others.
     Non-executive directors are appointed initially for three years, subject to three months’ termination notice from either BT or the director. At the end of the first three years the appointment may be continued by mutual agreement. Each non-executive director is provided, upon appointment, with a letter setting out the terms of his or her appointment, including membership of Board committees, the fees to be paid and the time commitment expected from the director. The letter also covers such matters as the confidentiality of information and the company’s share dealing code.

Election and re-election
All directors are required by the company’s articles of association to be elected by shareholders at the first AGM after their appointment, if appointed by the Board. A director must subsequently retire by rotation at an AGM at intervals of not more than three years. The director may seek re-election.

Service agreements
The Chairman and executive directors have service agreements, which are approved by the Remuneration Committee. Information about the periods of these contracts is in the Report on directors’ remuneration.

Independent advice
The Board has a procedure for directors, in furtherance of their duties, to take independent professional advice if necessary, at the company’s expense. In addition, all directors have access to the advice and services of the Secretary.

Training and information
On appointment, the directors take part in an induction programme when they receive information about BT, the role of the Board and the matters reserved for its decision, the terms of reference and membership of the principal Board committees, and the powers delegated to those committees, the company’s corporate governance policies and procedures, including the powers reserved to the group’s most senior executives, and the latest financial information about the group. This is supplemented by visits to key BT locations and meetings with members of the Operating Committee and other key senior executives. Throughout their period in office the directors are continually updated on BT’s business, the competitive and regulatory environments in which it operates, technology and corporate social responsibility matters and other changes affecting BT and the communications industry as a whole, by written briefings and meetings with senior BT executives. Directors are also advised on appointment of their legal and other duties and obligations as a director of a listed company, both in writing and in face-to-face meetings with the Secretary. They are reminded of these duties each year and they are also updated on changes to the legal, accounting and governance requirements upon the company and themselves as directors. During the 2005 financial year, for example, they have attended a presentation on the effects of the introduction of international financial reporting standards on the Group’s results and have received further briefings on the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which affects BT because its securities are registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), changes to UK company law and various corporate governance proposals from the European Commission.
     Guidelines are in place concerning the content, presentation and delivery of papers for each Board meeting, so that the directors have enough information to be properly briefed sufficiently far ahead of each Board meeting and at other appropriate times.

Board evaluation
During summer 2004 the Board carried out, through a questionnaire and discussion with directors, a formal evaluation of Board and Board committee performance. The individual performance of directors was also evaluated at one-to-one sessions with the Chairman. As part of this process, the Deputy Chairman, Sir Anthony Greener, met all directors individually to review the Chairman’s performance. The results of that exercise were considered by the Board in July 2004 and a number of actions agreed. These evaluations will be carried out annually.

Directors’ and officers’ liability insurance and indemnity
For some years the company has purchased insurance to cover its directors and officers against their costs in defending themselves in civil legal proceedings taken against them in that capacity and in respect of damages resulting from the unsuccessful defence of any proceedings. At the date upon which this report was approved, and throughout the 2005 financial year, the company’s wholly-owned subsidiary, British Telecommunications plc, has provided an indemnity in respect of all the company’s directors. Neither the insurance nor the indemnity provide cover where the director has acted fraudulently or dishonestly.

Principal Board committees
To meet best corporate governance practice, Audit, Remuneration and Nominating Committees have long been an established part of BT’s system of governance. Each committee has written terms of reference, which are available on the company’s website. The minutes of Audit and Nominating Committee meetings are sent, at their request, to directors who are not a member of a committee. In the case of the Remuneration Committee, minutes are circulated, on request, to other non-executive directors as well as to members of the committee.

The Audit Committee is chaired by Sir Anthony Greener, the Deputy Chairman and senior independent director. The other members are Maarten van den Bergh, Clay Brendish, Lou Hughes, John Nelson and Carl Symon. They are all independent non-executive directors. They were members of the committee throughout the 2005 financial year. The Board considers that the Committee’s members have broad commercial experience and extensive business leadership, having held various roles in accountancy, financial management and supervision, treasury and corporate finance and that there is a broad and suitable mix of business, financial and IT experience on the Committee. The Board has reviewed membership of the Committee and is satisfied that several of the Committee’s members have the recent and relevant financial experience required for the provisions of the Combined Code.
     The Committee recommends the appointment and reappointment of the company’s external auditors and considers their resignation or dismissal, recommending to the Board appropriate action to appoint new auditors. It ensures that key partners are rotated at appropriate intervals. It discusses with the auditors the scope of their audits before they commence, reviews the results and considers the formal reports of the auditors and reports the results of those reviews to the Board. It reviews the auditors’ performance, including the scope of the audit, and recommends to the Board appropriate remuneration.

As a result of regulatory or similar requirements, it may be necessary to employ the company’s external auditors for certain non-audit work. In order to safeguard the independence and objectivity of the external auditors, the Board has determined policies as to what non-audit services can be provided by the company’s external auditors and the approval processes related to them. Under those policies work of a consultancy nature will not be offered to the external auditors unless there are clear efficiencies and value added benefits to the company. The overall policies and the processes to implement them were reviewed and appropriately modified in the light of the provisions of the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 relating to non-audit services that external auditors may not perform. The Audit Committee monitors the extent of non-audit work being performed by the company’s auditors and approves such work before it is undertaken. It also monitors the level of non-audit fees paid to the external auditors.
     The Audit Committee reviews the company’s published financial results, the Annual Report and Form 20-F and other published information for statutory and regulatory compliance. It reports its views to the Board to assist it in its approval of the results’ announcements and the Annual Report and Form 20-F. The Committee also reviews the disclosure made by the Chief Executive and Group Finance Director during the certification process for the annual report about the design or operation of internal controls or material weaknesses in the controls, including any fraud involving management or other employees who have a significant role in the company’s financial controls. The Board, as required by UK law, takes responsibility for all disclosures in the annual report.
     The Audit Committee monitors and reviews the standards of risk management and internal control, the effectiveness of internal control, financial reporting, accounting policies and procedures, and the company’s statements on internal controls before they are agreed by the Board for each year’s annual report. It also reviews the company’s internal audit function and its relationship with the external auditors, including internal audit’s plans and performance. It reviews the arrangements for dealing, in confidence, with complaints from employees about accounting or financial management impropriety, fraud, poor business practices and other matters. At each of its meetings it reviews with the group chief internal auditor and appropriate executives the implementation and effectiveness of key operational and functional change and remedial programmes. The Committee also sets aside time at every meeting to seek the views of the company’s internal and external auditors in the absence of executives.
     In addition to carrying out those regular tasks which are within the Committee’s terms of reference and which are described above, it has also carried out its annual consideration of the group’s risk register, as submitted to it by the Operating Committee, and reviewed the company’s system of internal control, its accounting systems, IT security and fraud and related matters. It also considered the effect on the company’s results of the introduction of international financial reporting standards, which have applied to the company’s results from the financial year beginning on 1 April 2005. The Committee has also reviewed at each of its meetings during the 2005 financial year the steps being taken within the group with regard to the application of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act dealing with the internal control over financial reporting. It also specifically evaluated its performance and processes and has reviewed the experience, skills and succession planning within the Group’s finance function.
     The Group Finance Director, the Secretary, the group’s chief internal auditor and the company’s external auditors attend the Committee’s meetings. The Committee met four times during the 2005 financial year.

Remuneration Committee
The Remuneration Committee comprises solely independent non-executive directors and is chaired by Sir Anthony Greener. It met five times during the 2005 financial year. Further details about the Committee are included in the Report on directors’ remuneration.

Nominating Committee
The Nominating Committee consists of the Chairman, the Deputy Chairman, John Nelson and Maarten van den Bergh. Its members have not changed during the 2005 financial year. The Secretary and, where appropriate, at the invitation of the Chairman, the Chief Executive attends the Committee’s meetings. It ensures an appropriate balance of experience and abilities on the Board, using this evaluation to review the size and composition of the Board and to recommend any proposed changes to the Board. It keeps under review the need for appointments to the Board, prepares a description of the specific experience and skills needed for an appointment, considers candidates who are put forward by the directors and external consultants, and recommends to the Board the appointments of all directors after having met short-listed candidates. It also reviews the time required from the Deputy Chairman and other non-executive directors to carry out their duties and advises the Board on succession planning for the positions of the Chairman, Deputy Chairman, Chief Executive and all other Board appointments. The Committee met four times during the 2005 financial year. It reviewed the current structure, profile and balance of the Board, approved the Chairman’s and Chief Executive’s job descriptions and the Board and Board committee evaluation questionnaire and process. The Committee also reviewed and recommended to the Board the continued appointments as non-executive directors of Baroness Jay, John Nelson (who did not take part in the review of his own reappointment) and Carl Symon.

Meetings attendance
The following table shows the attendance of directors at meetings of the Board and Audit, Remuneration and Nominating committees during the 2005 financial year.
      Board     Audit Committee     Remuneration Committee     Nominating Committee  

 
    (Attendance is shown only for a committee
member)
 
Number of meetings/
Director
    14     4     5     4  
Sir Christopher Bland
    14                 4  
Maarten van den Bergh
    12     4     5     4  
Clay Brendish
    14     3              
Pierre Danona
    11                    
Andy Green
    14                    
Sir Anthony Greener
    13     4     5     4  
Lou Hughesb
    5     2     2        
Margaret Jay
    12           4        
Hanif Lalanic
    2                    
Ian Livingston
    13                    
John Nelson
    13     3           3  
Paul Reynolds
    13                    
Carl Symon
    14     4     5        
Ben Verwaayen
    14                    

 
a
Resigned as a director on 28 February 2005
b
Granted unpaid leave of absence by the Board from 1 September 2004 to 30 June 2005 to lead the civil reconstruction effort for the US Government in Afghanistan
c
Appointed a director from 7 February 2005
 
Operating Committee
The Chief Executive, Ben Verwaayen, chairs the Operating Committee, which meets weekly. The other members are the Group Finance Director, the Chief Executives of BT Retail, BT Wholesale and BT Global Services and the Chief Broadband Officer. The Secretary attends all meetings. The Group Strategy and the Group HR Directors normally attend each meeting. The Committee has collective responsibility for running the group’s business end-to-end. To do that, it develops the group’s strategy and budget for Board approval, recommends to the Board the group’s capital expenditure and investments budgets, monitors the financial, operational and customer quality of service performance of the whole group, reviews the group’s risks register, allocates resources across the group within plans agreed by the Board, plans and delivers major cross-business programmes and reviews the senior talent base and succession plans of the group. Within the group’s corporate governance framework, approved by the Board, the Operating Committee is empowered to approve up to limits after which Board approval is required, capital expenditure, disposals of fixed assets, the making of investments by the group and divestments. It is authorised to delegate these approvals, up to its own limits, to senior executives.

Internal control and risk management
The Board is responsible for the group’s systems of internal control and risk management and for reviewing the effectiveness of those systems. Such systems are designed to manage, rather than eliminate, the risk of failure to achieve business objectives; any system can provide only reasonable and not absolute assurance against material misstatement or loss.
     The Board also takes account of significant social, environmental and ethical matters that relate to BT’s businesses and reviews annually BT’s corporate social responsibility. The company’s workplace practices, specific environmental, social and ethical risks and opportunities and details of underlying governance processes are dealt with in Our people and Our commitment to society.
     BT has processes for identifying, evaluating and managing the significant risks faced by the group. These processes have been in place for the whole of the 2005 financial year and have continued up to the date on which this document was approved. The processes are in accordance with the Turnbull guidance for directors published in the UK in September 1999.
     Risk assessment and evaluation takes place as an integral part of the group’s annual strategic planning cycle. The group has a detailed risk management process, culminating in a Board review, which identifies the key risks facing the group and each business unit. This information is reviewed by senior management as part of the strategic review. The group’s current key risks are summarised in Risk factors of this document.
     The key features of the risk management process comprise the following procedures:
Blue bullet point
senior executives, led by the Secretary, review the group’s key risks and have created a group risk register, describing the risks, owners and mitigation strategies. This is reviewed by the Operating Committee before being reviewed and approved by the Board.
Blue bullet point
the lines of business carry out risk assessments of their operations, have created registers relating to those risks, and ensure that the key risks are addressed.
Blue bullet point
senior management report regularly to the Group Finance Director on the operation of internal controls in their area of responsibility.
Blue bullet point
the Chief Executive receives annual reports from senior executives with responsibilities for major group operations with their opinion on the effectiveness of the operation of internal controls during the financial year.
Blue bullet point
the group’s internal auditors carry out continuing assessments of the quality of risk management and control. Internal Audit reports to the management and the Audit Committee on the status of specific areas identified for improvement. Internal audit also promotes effective risk management in the lines of business operations.
Blue bullet point
the Audit Committee, on behalf of the Board, considers the effectiveness of the operation of internal control processes and procedures in the group during the financial year, including the review of reports from the internal auditors and from the external auditors, and reports its conclusions to the Board. The Audit Committee has carried out these actions for the 2005 financial year.
     New subsidiaries acquired during the year have not been included in the above risk management process. They will be included for the 2006 financial year.
     Material joint ventures and associates, which BT does not control, outside the UK have not been dealt with as part of the group for the purposes of this internal control assessment.
     The Board has approved the formal statement of matters which are reserved to it for consideration, approval or oversight. It has also approved the group’s corporate governance framework, which sets out the high level principles by which the group is managed and the responsibilities and powers of the Operating Committee and the groupís senior executives. As part of this framework the development and implementation of certain powers relating to group-wide policies and practices are reserved to identified senior executives.

Relations with shareholders
Senior executives, led by the Chief Executive and the Group Finance Director and including, as appropriate, the other executive directors, hold meetings with the company’s principal institutional shareholders to discuss the company’s strategy, financial performance and specific major investment activities. The Deputy Chairman also attends, at his discretion and in consultation with the Chairman and the Chief Executive, meetings with shareholders during the year. The company also maintains contact, when appropriate, through the chairman of the Remuneration Committee and other senior executives to discuss overall remuneration policies and plans. Contact with institutional shareholders (and with financial analysts, brokers and the media) is controlled by written guidelines to ensure the protection of share price sensitive information that has not already been made generally available to the company’s shareholders. The directors are provided with either full or summarised reports and other written briefings from the company’s major shareholders and analysts and are regularly informed by the Secretary about the holdings of its principal shareholders. The Secretary also surveys the company’s retail shareholders about the quality of the company’s shareholder communications and share registration services.
     We are continuing our policy that shareholders vote on the annual report at the AGM. Shareholders will also again be asked to vote on the Report on directors’ remuneration.
     It is part of our policy to involve shareholders fully in the affairs of the company and to give them the opportunity at the AGM to ask questions about the company’s activities and prospects. We also give the shareholders the opportunity to vote on every substantially different issue by proposing a separate resolution for each issue.
     The proxy votes for and against each resolution, as well as abstentions, will be counted before the AGM and the results will be made available at the meeting after the shareholders have voted on each resolution on a show of hands and at the end of the meeting. It is our policy for all directors to attend the AGM if at all possible. Whilst, because of ill health or other pressing reasons, this may not always be possible, in normal circumstances this means that the chairman of the Audit, Nominating and Remuneration committees is at the AGM and is available to answer relevant questions.
     The Annual Review and, if requested, the Annual Report and Form 20-F, together with the Notice of the AGM, are sent to shareholders in the most cost-effective fashion, given the large number of shareholders. We aim to give as much notice as possible and at least 21 clear days, as required by the company’s articles of association. In practice, these documents are being sent to shareholders more than 20 working days before the AGM.
     Established procedures ensure the timely release of share price sensitive information and the publication of the company’s financial results and regulatory financial statements. All external announcements are also reviewed for accuracy and compliance requirements by a committee of senior, functional executives, the Disclosure Committee, which is chaired by the Secretary.

Statement of business practice
To reinforce our commitment to achieve best practice in our standards of business integrity and ethics, BT has a written statement of business practice (The Way We Work). The statement covers all our operations and reflects the expectations in the area of corporate governance and business practice standards. A copy of the statement has been sent to every employee. Copies are also sent to the employees of newly acquired subsidiaries.
     These high-level principles are supported by a continuing and comprehensive communications programme and online training. A confidential helpline and e-mail facility are also available to employees who have questions about the application of these principles. The helpline number is published externally. We also continue to require our agents and contractors to apply these principles when representing BT.

Pension funds
BT’s two main pension funds – the BT Pension Scheme and the BT Retirement Plan – are not controlled by the Board but by separate trustees who are company and union nominees, under independent chairmen. The trustees look after the assets of the funds, which are held separately from those of the company. The pension funds’ assets can only be used in accordance with their respective rules and for no other purpose.

Financial statements
A statement by the directors of their responsibilities for preparing the financial statements is included in the Statement of directors’ responsibility. The directors’ statement on going concern is in the Financial review.

BT has securities registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). As a result, BT is obliged to comply with those provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act applicable to foreign issuers. BT will comply with the legal and regulatory requirements introduced pursuant to this legislation, in so far as they are applicable to the group.
     Given the narrow and prescriptive definition under the relevant SEC rules, it is the opinion of the Board that the Audit Committee does not include a member who is an ‘audit committee financial expert’. However, the Board considers that the Committee’s members have broad commercial experience and extensive business leadership, having held various roles in accountancy, financial management and supervision, treasury and corporate finance and that there is a broad and suitable mix of business, financial and IT experience on the Committee. The Board and its committees are keeping the appointment of a financial expert, as defined by US law, under review.
     The Chief Executive and Group Finance Director, after evaluating the effectiveness of BT’s disclosure controls and procedures as of the end of the period covered by this Annual Report and Form 20-F, have concluded that, as of such date, BT’s disclosure controls and procedures were effective to ensure that material information relating to BT was made known to them by others within the group. The Chief Executive and Group Finance Director have also provided the certifications required by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
     There were no changes in BT’s internal control over financial reporting that occurred during the year ended 31 March 2005 that have materially affected, or are reasonably likely to materially affect, BT’s internal control over financial reporting.
     The code of ethics for the Chief Executive, Group Finance Director and Director Group Financial Control and Treasury, adopted for the purposes of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, is posted on the company’s website at www.btplc.com/Thegroup/Companyprofile/Ourcodesofethics/codeofethics.htm

The New York Stock Exchange
The company, as a foreign issuer with American Depositary Shares listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), is obliged to disclose any significant ways in which its corporate governance practices differ from the corporate governance listing standards of the NYSE.
     The company has reviewed the NYSE’s new listing standards and believes that its corporate governance practices are consistent with them, with the following exception where the company does not meet the strict requirements set out in the standards. The standards state that companies must have a nominating/corporate governance committee composed entirely of independent directors and with written terms of reference which, in addition to identifying individuals qualified to become board members, develops and recommends to the Board a set of corporate governance principles applicable to the company. BT has a Nominating Committee. It does not develop corporate governance principles for the Board’s approval. The Board approves the group’s overall system of internal controls, governance and compliance authorities. The Board and the Nominating Committee are made up of a majority of independent, non-executive directors.
     The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the SEC and NYSE rules will require the company from 31 July 2005 to comply with certain provisions relating to the Audit Committee. These include the independence of Audit Committee members and procedures for the treatment of complaints regarding accounting or auditing matters. The company is already fully compliant with these requirements.
 

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