Martin Flanagan: Dido Harding hangs up at TalkTalk

Dido Harding is leaving TalkTalk to play a greater role in public life. Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Dido Harding is leaving TalkTalk to play a greater role in public life. Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
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There’s never a dull moment in broadband and telecoms.

Last week it was BT brought low – to the tune of more than £500 million in provisions – by an accountancy scandal at its Italian subsidiary.

Yesterday it was Sir Charles Dunstone, the founder of TalkTalk, moving up from non-executive to executive chairman of the business as chief executive Baroness Dido Harding steps down after seven years to play a greater role in public life.

She is already in the House of Lords and a non-executive director of the Bank of England. Few would question Harding’s energy in the role at the TalkTalk helm (even if Dunstone, who still sits on a 30 per cent stake in the company, is one of the least temperamentally non-executive people on the business block).

READ MORE: TalkTalk handed record fine over customers’ data leak

But Harding is not departing the challenger telecoms group on a high. The cyber attack on TalkTalk in 2015, which saw the personal data of nearly 160,000 people accessed by hackers, still looms large in the public mind. The fiasco was branded a “car crash” by the then information commissioner Christopher Graham, cost the company £60m, and led to tens of thousands of customers quitting the company. There have been continuing consumer complaints.

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Shares in TalkTalk bounced higher on yesterday’s news, which also sees Harding replaced as chief executive by the managing director of the consumer division, Tristia Harrison. Charles Bligh (currently MD, TalkTalk Business) will become chief operating officer. Nobody knows the business like Dunstone, while Harrison and Bligh have been there several years, so there is continuity.

In particular, Dunstone, who is stepping down as chairman of Dixons Carphone as part of the changes, has the street stardust to repair the TalkTalk brand if anyone can.

Nobody should underestimate the challenge, however. Third quarter figures also out yesterday show TalkTalk still shedding broadband and TV customers, with revenues falling.

Along with Sky, TalkTalk has been a thorn in BT’s regulatory side on the latter’s Openreach business. The difference is that Sky has deep enough pockets to give BT a run for its money, whereas sometimes TalkTalk came across as a rent-a-quote irritant touring the television studios.

A new Dunstone direction is needed.

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