Posted on October 3, 2023

Anger at BT as Top Executive Declares Plans to Cut More Than 1,000 Jobs in Rural Areas

Mark Hookham, Daily Mail, September 23, 2023

Telecoms giant BT was last night under fire after a top executive declared that plans to cut more than 1,000 jobs in rural East Anglia while hiring new staff in major cities will boost its workforce diversity.

In comments leaked to The Mail on Sunday, Howard Watson, BT’s chief networks officer, suggested that a ‘significant factor’ in choosing where to locate major offices was the ethnic diversity of the area.

One Tory MP yesterday accused BT of ‘pandering to political correctness’ and warned it could be illegally discriminating against white staff.

It comes as the MoS can reveal that BT’s new chief executive, Allison Kirkby, could pocket up to £220,000 in bonus payments specifically linked to ‘diversity and inclusion’ targets.

BT unveiled controversial plans in July to cut up to 1,100 jobs from its 2,900-strong base in Martlesham, near Ipswich, as part of a major overhaul of its offices called the ‘Better Workplace Programme’. Under the blueprint, some of the staff affected will be offered the chance to move to ‘strategic hub’ cities including London, Birmingham and Manchester.

A recording obtained by the MoS details Mr Watson telling staff the headcount reduction is a ‘shocking number’, but adds that BT would be able to recruit new workers in ‘many more places’ which would ‘improve diversity inclusion over time’.

Asked whether boosting diversity and inclusion was a key reason for relocating jobs, Mr Watson replies: ‘That was a significant factor in the choice of the locations.’

Martlesham is 95.8 per cent white, according to latest figures – in contrast, Birmingham is 48.7 per cent white.

Former Government Minister Sir John Hayes said: ‘BT shouldn’t be pandering to political correctness. It needs to be clear if it is jeopardising workers’ interests around an ideological agenda. That would be reprehensible and possibly illegal, too.’

The telecoms provider announced plans two years ago to more than double the share of its workforce from non-white backgrounds to 25 per cent by 2030, becoming the biggest British employer to impose such a target.

In March, the proportion of ethnic minority staff at BT was 13.4 per cent, with bosses aiming for it to jump to 16 per cent by 2025.

The annual bonus enjoyed by Ms Kirkby is – for the first time – partly connected to BT hitting its ambitious diversity targets and could contribute to a maximum pay-out of £2.2 million on top of her £1.1 million salary.

A BT spokesperson said its Martlesham office ‘remains an essential site’, adding: ‘Our need to relocate roles reflects UK-wide efforts to focus investment into fewer, but more modern, buildings.’