Centrica director quits in political feud

Tories oppose Lambeth Council chief's non-executive job

A political farce has struck at British Gas's former supply business, Centrica, just four days after it split itself off as a separate company.

The farce culminated yesterday in the surprise resignation from Centrica's board of Heather Rabbatts, the former barrister and currently the high profile chief executive of Lambeth Council, following a typically bitter internal feud among rival political factions in the London borough.

Ms Rabbatts told councillors last November of her intention to join the Centrica board as a non-executive director. She was drafted in to grapple with Lambeth's catalogue of problems two years ago on a pounds 115,000 salary, reputed to be the highest in local government.

Most Labour members at Lambeth, a "hung" authority in which no party exercises overall control, had supported the job at Centrica. Ms Rabbatts had pledged to pay her pounds 20,000 salary from Centrica, which covered her attendance at eight board meetings a year, to local charities. It was believed to be the first time a salaried council official had been appointed to a non-executive directorship.

Jim Dickson, leader of the Labour group, said yesterday: "Failure to support her appointment is a missed opportunity for Lambeth. It would have provided a productive trade in ideas between the public and private sectors for the benefit of both."

A source at the council said: "We have had our own well-known problems here just like British Gas, including terrible service and a dreadful press reputation. Heather is sorting that out and I would have thought her experience would have come in useful at Centrica."

However, in what appeared to be a bizarre twist of allegiances Conservative councillors, supported by some local union officials, opposed the appointment. In the local press, Unison, the public service union which also has many Centrica members, claimed the directorship was another example of the "fat cat" mentality which had plagued the company and was now creeping into local government.

Councillor Bernard Gentry, deputy leader of the Conservative group, said: "Lambeth is still in a dreadful mess. Her time is needed here." He also said the Conservatives would be investigating why Ms Rabbatts had apparently taken up the appointment despite needing to seek approval from councillors beforehand.

The Conservative group said this was a serious development. Mr Gentry denied that his local party's opposition to Ms Rabbatts' Centrica job was a break with normal Conservative policy, which encourages the injection of business principles into the public services.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, who hold marginally the largest number of seats in the borough, also objected, though they claimed they were not opposed to such moves in principle. Mike Tuffrey, leader of the group, explained: "Most of our members were opposed to this. Her talents need to be addressed to the borough."

Ms Rabbatts was to be one of six non-executive directors at Centrica, alongside Sir Michael Perry, chairman, and Bill Cockburn, who is also chief executive of WH Smith.

Roy Gardner, chief executive, said he was very sorry about the resignation, but argued the board still had a strong team of non-executives. A Centrica spokeswoman said there would be no immediate move to replace her. "We are not going to rush into anything."

Ms Rabbatts declined to comment on the resignation, apart from saying it was a "matter of personal regret". However, a source close to the Lambeth chief executive said: "In terms of conflicts of interest, there just wasn't one. As for whether she could spare the time to take this job on, she has said it would come out of her annual leave."

Centrica shares ended their first week on the stock market with a drop of 1.75p yesterday to 68.5p.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'