Pensioner says: ‘You’re all fat cats’ but Centrica pay deals get the nod

“Centrica are the fattest of the fat cats. They are about profit not people.” That was the verdict of Elaine Lebethe, the chairwoman of the Lambeth Pensioners Action Group, just one of the 20 protest groups that laid siege to British Gas owner’s annual meeting at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London yesterday.

More than a few dissenting voices made it into the hall to give the new chairman, Rick Haythornthwaite, and his board a rough ride. It wasnt just pay packages like director  Chris Weston’s £401,000 cash bonus that were under fire.

For instance, Clare Welton of Fuel Poverty Action, who mixed up her beverage and food metaphors, told the board: “When are you going to wake up and smell the coffee? We don’t want a bigger slice of the pie, we want the whole bakery,” a reference to renationalisation, as she castigated the group for installing controversial pre-payment meters in the homes of people who failed to pay their bills.

Fracking – the exploration technology Centrica is keen to enter in the UK – also raised its head in questioning, with both for and against sides present, as did supposed “dithering” over building new nuclear power plants.

One disenchanted shareholder catalogued Centrica’s recent travails – the second profits warnings in six months, poor customer service standards, dividends under threat and the spectre of being the biggest player in an industry which has become a political football – telling Mr Haythornthwaite he had been “recruited into a relative shambles”.

Despite angry shouts from the floor, Mr Haythornthwaite put on a brave face, surprisingly admitting that the company that “balls had been dropped in the past” at the company – which has been recently fined £5.6m for poor customer service. Customer complaints as late as the third quarter of last year were “far too high”, and he was looking for “changes to the fabric of the business”.

As for the profits warnings, these was squarely put down to a mild winter. But it was politics – the threat of a price freeze from an incoming Labour government, a full competition inquiry and worsening fuel poverty – which loomed largest.

The chief executive, Sam Laidlaw, said he had “real concerns that a two-year market investigation will damage investment”, adding that any such investigation would have to be wide-ranging, encompassing green taxes as well as Big Six profits.

As for Labour’s plans for a price freeze, Mr Laidlaw steered largely clear, other than to state that “political consensus has broken down and the energy industry portrayed as part of the problem”, but in a veiled sideswipe at Labour’s policy pledge he did add: “Only solutions grounded in economic reality have a future.”

Nevertheless, the board were urged by one shareholder to build up a cash pile and reduce debt so they could withstand an attack on their bottom line from a future Labour government, an idea that prompted a loud round of applause. The board gave no specific commitment other than that they were looking at savings to be made through further integration of its natural gas business and to reap the benefits of becoming the biggest energy supplier in the American North-west.

Mr Haythornthwaite may not have had much of a honeymoon, but 96 per cent of shareholders approved the pay packages.

After possibly the most difficult year for the energy giant since the privatisation of British Gas in the mid 1980s, total pay to the board fell to £7.7m in 2013 from £19.5m the year before.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
An iceberg in Ilulissat, Greenland; researchers have been studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and their long-term ramifications for the rest of the world (Getty)
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Jackman bears his claws and loses the plot in X-Men movie 'The Wolverine'
Arts and Entertainment
'Knowledge is power': Angelina Jolie has written about her preventive surgery
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Retirement Coordinator - Financial Services

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To provide a prompt, friendly and efficient se...

Recruitment Genius: Annuities / Pensions Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will be the first point of contact for all...

Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Officer - Altrincham - up to £24,000.

£18000 - £24000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Of...

Ashdown Group: Learning and Development Programme Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing