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Patricia Hewitt joins BT as non-exec director

MP and telecom sitting in a tree

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Patricia Hewitt is to join BT later this month as a non-executive director, boosting her salary by a healthy £60,000.

The appointment of the former Secretary of State for both Trade and Health into one of Britain's largest private companies muddies the water between politics and business.

As a politician, Hewitt was closely involved with BT, although their relationship was not always cordial.

The Leicester West MP was instrumental in the creation of Ofcom, the all-in-one regulator for telecoms and the media, while she was head of the DTI. Not only did she help establish the Ofcom constitution, but she also appointed its chairman Lord Currie.

Ofcom took a far tougher approach to BT than its predecessor, Oftel. The regulator was quick to insist that BT must structurally separate its local loop division from the rest of the company; a brave move which left governments and regulators around the rest of the world watching with interest.

Hewitt was also responsible for relieving BT of nearly £5bn for its 3G licence at the height of the dotcom boom. It gave that licence up just one year later as it spun off its mobile activities, which became O2.

The Aussie-born 59-year-old was also closely involved with BT while she was Health Secretary.

During her tenure, BT won several contracts for the troubled NHS National Programme for IT, a multi-billion pound technology project for which the costs have spiralled.

Among its contract wins, BT won the right to build the national data spine, work which is much delayed and has been subjected to wide-ranging security concerns from privacy campaigners.

Major appointments of politicians into the business world are overseen by a parliamentary group, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which have approved Hewitt's move. She has, however, been asked not to lobby government until June - 12 months after she quit as Health Minister.

Hewitt already holds positions at two private companies: Boots, the high street chemist chain, and private equity company Cinven, which also has interests in the health sector through its ownership of BUPA's UK hospitals.

Through her additional three roles, she is guaranteed to remain firmly in the public spotlight as both a politician and a businesswoman. ®

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