ALEX BRUMMER: BT fails the test of care

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Under the current leadership of Philip Jansen, BT has recognised its role as an infrastructure champion. But customer care looks to have gone by the board


ALEX BRUMMER: BT fails the test of care… so it’s no surprise that investors are regarding it with disdain

BT shares have staged a minor recovery since their nadir last August when they briefly fell below 100p, valuing the owner of broadband network Openreach at less than the £12.5billion it paid for mobile operator EE in 2016.

As Britain’s dominant broadband and wifi supplier, during a period when large swathes of the workforce and most of the nation’s school pupils have been locked down, BT should be trusted to act as if it were an emergency service.

When my home ‘business’ BT broadband service, for which we pay £168.28 a quarter, packed up this week I returned to the Daily Mail’s office even though my spouse is shielding from Covid. 

Under the current leadership of Philip Jansen, BT has recognised its role as an infrastructure champion. But customer care looks to have gone by the board

The first call to BT for help was greeted with the response that it wasn’t BT’s responsibility because we were only paying for landline services.

After a second call and 20-minute wait, and equipped with a settled bill reference, there was acknowledgement that we did have broadband after all.

Checks were made remotely on the signal and we were told all was well and the problem must be with equipment in the home.

A request to conduct a check on the system at home was greeted with a response more typically associate with an emergency plumber. The call-out fee would be £125.

Once at the property we would be charged around £100 an hour for the technician’s time, in addition to the cost of any replacement equipment.

In spite of the medical circumstances it was unlikely that they could get anyone to us until Thursday. 

Working from our fully Covid-compliant offices I was acutely aware that with newer, highly infectious strains of the virus there could be risks for the vulnerable member of my household.

I have no objection to paying for the call-out or for the new equipment, even though the existing stuff was supplied by BT. But the pricing was exorbitant and left one curious as to how less well-placed households would afford to get broadband restored.

Under the current leadership of Philip Jansen, BT has recognised its role as an infrastructure champion. But customer care looks to have gone by the board.

Openreach may have been separated operationally from the mother ship but appears as insensitive to consumer needs. Not surprising then that investors (including this writer) regard BT with disdain.

Young ones

All of us will know someone whose job or business has been crushed by the pandemic. It is not going to get any easier.

As the International Monetary Fund reports, the winter rise in infections means that the UK’s recovery this year well be less robust than hoped after a 10 per cent wipeout of growth in 2021.

With the hospitality and travel sectors bleeding and the High Street shrinking, the main priority in the Budget on March 3 must be preserving enterprise and jobs.

Nevertheless, Britain’s stark loss of output is not being matched with surging unemployment, with the UK doing better than most of its cohorts.

The furlough scheme, which is keeping 4.5m people in jobs, together with help for the self-employed, is preventing disaster. 

When lockdown began there were dire predictions of 9 per cent unemployment, later chiselled down to 7 per cent. Latest data shows that in the three months to the end of November it was 5 per cent.

This is not say there is room for complacency. Redundancies climbed by 395,000 in the latest three months, and the numbers in 2020 were flattered by the fact that 600,000 overseas workers decided to sit out Covid in their home countries.

Even so, it is encouraging to see that in December there was an increase of 52,000 on payrolls. Most lost jobs have been in the lowest-paid occupations filled by younger members of the workforce.

That’s why ramping up apprenticeships and ‘kick start’ is so important.

Long haul

It is easily forgotten that aero-engine maker Rolls-Royce is as much part of the UK’s aviation industry as BA-owner IAG.

With air corridors closed and quarantine restrictions tightened, Rolls chief executive Warren East has cautioned that flying hours will fall short and there will be a cash outflow of £2billion in 2021, more than previous forecasts up to £2billion. 

With £9billion of liquidity, the company says it can cope.

It is going to be a tough climb back for shares, which have been savaged.

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