UK government worried about ownership of British telco
The UK government is to probe into the French billionaire Patrick Drahi’s swelling share of control over BT as a matter of national security. On Thursday it posted a statement on its web site saying that the acquisition by Altice of 6% of shares in BT has been called-in for a full national security assessment by Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. “The government has powers under the National Security and Investment Act 2021 to scrutinise and – if necessary – intervene in qualifying acquisitions on national security grounds,” it said. “The government has 30 working days (extendable by up to a further 45 working days) to carry out that assessment. That process is underway.”
Mr Drahi’s company, Altice, increased its investment from 12% to 18% in December, prompting speculation that BT could face a takeover bid. The business secretary will now probe the move using his new powers under the National Security and Investment Act. BT said it would co-operate with the review. BT has-been hastily transforming itself signing deals with the likes of Amazon Web Services (AWS) in a bid to become more marketable. By the end of financial year FY24, BT has said it will have saved £2 billion by retiring legacy applications, associated infrastructure and data centres. It has a modernisation programme that aims to save £2 billion a year by January 1 2025.
Storm in a BT cup
BT is in the middle of a transformational programme to build a national broadband fibre network, a strategy crucial both to the company and the government, which says it wants to boost regional growth. Shares in BT fell more than 4% in morning trading in London. Mr Drahi, who also owns auction house Sotheby’s, first began buying BT shares last June. His purchase of just over 12% of the company, worth £2.2bn at the time, made him the largest shareholder. Drahi now owns 18% of BT – 12% short of 30%, the point at which takeover rules would force him to make an offer for the whole company.