In allaying fears among staff and suppliers that BT was to undertake a sale and leaseback operation of its fleet, Entwistle said tenders were going out to manufacturers for both car and commercial vehicle business. BT has debts of £30 billion and is disposing of non-core activities in a bid to reduce the burden.
The Financial Times story claimed: 'British Telecommunications is planning to accelerate its break-up strategy with the sale of up to 58,000 vehicles to a fleet leasing operator. The debt-laden telecoms group hopes to agree a long-term outsourcing contract to manage and maintain its extensive fleet of engineering vans and other vehicles.'
If the sale and leaseback deal got the go-ahead it would be the largest single such deal in the history of the UK fleet market. Industry leaders speculated that the deal could be worth in excess of £1 billion. In the article Geoffrey Almeida, chief executive of BT Business Services, was quoted as saying: 'We are looking at our vehicle fleet to see what we can do as part of our strategy to focus on the core telecoms business. With this deal we could turn the number two in the fleet leasing business into the number one, or make sure that the number one operator remained in front permanently.'
Last month BT was named UK Fleet of the Year in the 2001 Fleet News Awards and simultaneously the company revealed it was relaunching its company car scheme after an eight-month car buying moratorium. Ordering on the outright purchase fleet began on April 1 and manufacturers have been asked to tender for the new business with the intention of cutting down the current choice list of 21 makes, with the successful suppliers being announced in July. In addition tenders for commercial vehicles will be announced shortly.
'The story is pure speculation,' said Entwistle. 'There is nothing in it. Policies are always kept under review but we have just completed a major fleet review. If we wanted to asset finance our fleet we would have done it by now.'