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Chairman's Message

Sir Christopher Bland

Our results for the 2005 financial year were strong. New wave revenues grew by 32% to £4.5 billion, and now represent nearly a quarter of our business. Earnings per share have more than doubled over the past three years and net debt is more than £20 billion lower than in 2001.

Earnings per share in the 2005 financial year, before goodwill amortisation and exceptional items, grew by 7% to 18.1 pence. While continuing to invest for the future, we generated free cash flow of £2.3 billion, up 10%.
     The news on dividends is positive. We are recommending a full-year dividend of 10.4 pence per share, a pay out ratio of 57% of earnings before goodwill amortisation and exceptional items, compared to 50% last year. We continue with our progressive dividend policy. The dividend for the 2006 financial year will be at least 60% of underlying earnings: subject to the group’s overall financial position, we expect our pay out ratio to rise to around two-thirds of underlying earnings by the 2008 financial year.
     We continued with our share buy back programme in the 2005 financial year. This is being funded from cash generated over and above that required for servicing our debt. We have reduced net debt to below £8 billion, a level with which we are comfortable.

Business progress
In support of our strategy for transformation and growth, your Board gave backing during the year for a targeted series of acquisitions that will help to build our capabilities as one of the world’s foremost global networked IT services companies. These acquisitions offered value for money, had a compelling strategic fit and brought capabilities to strengthen BT globally. In addition, passing the five million mark for broadband connections in the UK in early April was a key moment in the history of your company.

BT welcomed the Strategic Review of Telecommunications by Ofcom. During the year we have worked to help influence and shape their thinking and made a radical proposal for a new regulatory landscape in the UK. We continued to argue strongly that structural separation was not in shareholders’ or customers’ interests. We look forward to the published outcome. Our position remains that a strategic and flexible regulatory regime, together with rapid deregulation wherever possible, is vital to meeting customers’ developing needs and creating the conditions in which we, and others, can continue to invest with confidence.

Board membership
There were a number of changes to your Board during the 2005 financial year. I would like to welcome Hanif Lalani as our new Group Finance Director. Ian Livingston, who had occupied the finance role with distinction for three years, was appointed Chief Executive BT Retail with effect from February 2005. It is a testament to the strength of BT’s management team generally that we were able to appoint people from inside the company to such key roles. I would also like to thank Pierre Danon, who left the Board in February, for his significant contribution as Chief Executive of BT Retail for the last four years.

Wider responsibilities
It is increasingly important that companies such as BT continue to be good corporate citizens, living up to our responsibilities to the communities in which we operate and to the environment. I’m proud to be able to report that, for the fourth year in a row, BT was the highest placed telecommunications company in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Our community programmes focus on those issues where communications really can make the difference; we have provided long-term support, for example, for a drama-based education programme to help develop young people’s communications skills, and for the work of the children’s charity ChildLine.
     Like so many other companies and individuals, we wanted to respond to the devastating Asian tsunami in December 2004. We made a donation of £500,000 to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) and we provided a live call centre for the unprecedented number of calls coming into the DEC. I’m particularly proud of the fact that so many of our employees were involved in fundraising activities and that 16 of our engineers travelled to the affected area to help re-establish communications.

The process of transformation on which your company embarked in 2001 is accelerating. That process is increasingly reflected in your company’s results. We are well set for further success in the years ahead.
     I’d like to thank shareholders for the loyalty they’ve shown. Your continued confidence – coupled with the loyalty of our customers and suppliers and the imagination and commitment of our employees – is fundamental to our transformation for growth.

Sir Christopher Bland

18 May 2005




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