Blow for BT as finance chief quits: EC asked to speed up liberalisation of phone services

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The Independent Online
BT, the telecommunications giant, suffered a setback yesterday when Barry Romeril, its finance director for the past five years, announced that he was to leave the company on 30 June to join Xerox Corporation as chief financial officer.

He said that the move fitted in with his desire to return to the US in a key role with another leading company. However, it is thought that Mr Romeril found it increasingly difficult to accept the growing role of Oftel, the industry regulator, in the domestic telecommunications market. Industry experts expect there to be a change in philosophy at Oftel under its new director-general, Donald Cruickshank. BT faces further uncertainty this year as the Government prepares to sell its remaining 22 per cent stake in the company.

Iain Vallance, BT's chairman, said: 'We are very sorry to see Barry go. He has been a most effective finance director and has made a major contribution at BT over the past five years.' He did not name a successor.

BT's strategy of expanding abroad was underlined yesterday when it asked the European Community to accelerate liberalisation of telephone services. The Commission yesterday approved the first stage of a plan, to be put before national telecommunications ministers on 10 May, that would lay down complete liberalisation of all services by 1998. A BT spokesman said it wanted the EC to take action before then to speed liberalisation.

Britain is the only country in the EC that has carried out a thorough liberalisation of the sector so far and is anxious to push the pace. Others are concerned that it is already too fast and the Commission has tried to draw a balance. Its proposals for the first phase of liberalisation up to 1995 envisage an accelerated adoption of proposals in satellite communications and mutual recognition of licences.

BT is also facing a battle in the US, where it has applied for licences to offer international telephone services. AT&T, the US telecommunications giant, has voiced strong objections to BT's application until the UK market is opened up further. BT will today file a petition to the US authorities claiming that equivalent opportunities for foreign firms to compete already exist in the UK.

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