BT to announce death of Concert

About time. But will it take time?

BT is to announce it will finally scrap its loss-making joint venture with AT&T, Concert, according to numerous reports. Concert has been a thorn in the side of BT for years and current estimates are that the company - which supplies long-distance telephony to business customers - is losing £20 million a week.

The announcement doesn't come as much as a shock since new chairman Sir Christopher Bland stated a fortnight ago that sorting Concert out was his main priority. The BT board has said this before but Bland's fast-acting no-nonsense approach may mean that something is finally done about it.

It will be a difficult challenge, however, since BT and AT&T will have to decide who gets which customers - which is bound to start arguments. But when £20 million is lost for every five days they deliberate, there is a fair amount of impetus in getting an agreement sorted.

No one seems to be sure why Concert has been such a grand failure, with the most obvious reasons - heavy competition and poor management - repeatedly rolled out with little or no evidence to back them up. To our mind, the most likely reason is that the two grand former monopolies have had heavy ego and culture clashes, promoting argument over action.

If Bland manages to pull it off - and fast - he may finally have earned the title of Saviour of BT. Since starting the job, he has cut the behemoth's huge £30 billion debt in half by selling off minority stakes, real estate and announcing a £5.9 billion rights issue. He has also cut out ambiguity in BT's previous business strategy and tied up loose ends, removing some of the City's jitters.

Sorting out the Concert debacle will be a final feather in his cap. Of course from there he only has to come up with a viable plan for the future of BT's dwindling monopoly in the UK. Something that has eluded Bonfield, Vallance and Brace for five years - although they only knew it 12 months ago. ®

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