'Shareholder spring' revolt over fat cat pay poised to gather pace

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The Independent Online

Anger over boardroom pay will explode again this week as further investor rebellions demonstrate the "shareholder spring" of unrest continues unabated.

Cookson, the FTSE 250 engineering group, and online gaming firm 888 are in the immediate line of fire. Both companies are braced for chunky votes against their pay policies when they stage annual meetings on Wednesday and Thursday respectively.

Several bigger firms are fighting a rearguard action against investor concerns over how much they have awarded bosses. HSBC has begun consulting shareholders to try to calm worries over the pay package of almost £8m handed to chief executive Stuart Gulliver. WPP, the advertising giant, has gone on the defensive over boss Sir Martin Sorrell's near-£13m pay deal. The shareholder spring has so far claimed the scalps of three high-profile bosses at Aviva, Britain's largest insurance company, drugs giant AstraZeneca and Trinity Mirror, publisher of the Daily Mirror and The People. Pendragon, the car dealer, was stung by a revolt last week.

At Cookson, Nick Salmon, the chief executive, is under fire for a long-term pay plan that handed him £7m despite shares in the firm, which makes parts for gadgets such as the iPad, underperforming peers. At 888, the flashpoint has been caused by a generous bonus awarded to Aviad Kobrine, the finance director. The Association of British Insurers has issued "red top" warnings to its members on both the companies.

Vince Cable, the business secretary who is pressing for the investor vote on boardroom pay to be made binding, also wants companies to disclose more information about their use of remuneration consultants who advise directors on how to craft pay deals and performance targets..

The Trades Union Congress says the government needs to do more than just make voting decisions binding to ensure that pay is set at more realistic levels. It wants workers to be invited to sit on the committees that set top remuneration.