Metering British Gas perks

N

The British Gas annual meeting tomorrow could turn out to be unprecedented in UK corporate history. Trade unions and political parties are hiring coaches to transport shareholders to the meeting, while tabloid newspapers are sponsoring their own coaches and advertising planned routes so people can join them along the way.

Attention will focus in particular on a resolution sponsored by Pensions Investment Research Consultants to reverse the pay increase given to Cedric Brown, the chief executive, last ovember. He receives a basic salary of pounds 475,000 plus an annual allocation of shares worth up to 125 per cent more. If he gets his full bonus, Mr Brown can take away more than a pounds 1m a year.

The name Pirc is not likely to be recognised by the man in the street. Anne Simpson, the 37-year-old joint managing director, says the consultancy was set up in 1986 to advise trustees and investment administrators of pension funds run, mainly, by left-wing local authorities, many of them concerned about the apparent lack of ethics in the City.

Ms Simpson, an Oxford graduate and former fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, works alongside her co-managing director, Alan MacDougall, a pension fund administrator at the GLC and former director of a GLC think- tank on City matters.

"At first we were seen as going against the trend," Ms Simpson says. "The City was making a lot of money and nobody wanted to hear about corporate governance."

With the recession and several high-profile company failures, the perception has changed, she says. These days, people come from around the world to attend Pirc's annual conference at the Royal Society of Arts. "We were perhaps slightly ahead of our time, but demand for our service is growing," says Ms Simpson.

Pirc monitors compliance with corporate governance standards, ethics and environmental issues.

Ms Simpson rejects accusations levelled by British Gas that it has been unfairly singled out. She says she is quite prepared to pick on anyone, but "you can only have one major campaign a year as they are so demanding."

Pirc has a long list of completed campaigns. Examples include the 1993 attack on the industrial conglomerate,Hanson, which sought to "streamline" its annual meeting. Pirc successfully objected, claiming the plans took power away from shareholders.

Due to Pirc's efforts, Yorkshire Water was recently forced to appoint a consumer representative to its board.

The left-wing affiliations have been a problem for Pirc and several City clients refuse to allow their identities to be revealed. Others are interested in the corporate governance service Pirc provides, but are often restricted in what they do or say publicly because many of their own stockbrocking or corporate finance clients are among Pirc's targets.

Clients include the pension funds of British Rail, Cleveland County Council, Camden, Merseyside and Hackney local authorities and the city of ew York fund. City clients include BZW. Total funds under management by Pirc clients are about pounds 70bn.

Pirc is a private company, but reinvests profit and pays no dividend. Ms Simpson and Mr MacDougall get pounds 33,000 a year each. There are about 15 staff, mostly involved in research.

Whatever happens to the votes at the AGM, one thing appears certain; there has been a quantum shift of power away from the boardroom to shareholder lobby groups such as Pirc.

Companies can no longer assume that their plans will go unscrutinised.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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: Digital Optimisation Executive - Marketing

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's fastest growing, multi...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Reporting Manager

£70000 - £90000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Financial Reporting Manager i...

Recruitment Genius: Payments Operations Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They win lots of awards for the...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Debt Negotiator

£13500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This nationwide enforcement com...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?