Shareholders tell Barclays chief to go: Buxton spells out role of chief executive and announces telephone banking experiment

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The Independent Online
ANGRY small shareholders in Barclays yesterday assailed Andrew Buxton, the chairman, with demands for his resignation over the bank's pounds 242m loss and 28 per cent dividend cut last year.

At a packed annual meeting in the high-security Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in London, Mr Buxton was repeatedly forced to defend his and the bank's records, and to reject demands that his and other heads on the board must roll. There were claps and cheers from the floor for many of the critics, who were seizing an opportunity to criticise Mr Buxton. Until now, this has been available only to large institutional shareholders who have met him in private.

One small shareholder claimed that, on the basis of the bank's bad lending record, to make him chairman was 'putting Dracula in charge of a bloodbank'. He continued: 'The whole thing is stupid, you are all flawed, why don't you go?'

A tense Mr Buxton said: 'We are learning from the past and we are improving the business for you in the future and I don't think wholesale sacking of your board and your management is in the interests of this company.'

Shareholders were not reassured when he made clear he would play a hands-off role in day-to-day management once a new chief executive was appointed.

His job as chairman would be 'to ensure that the group has the correct strategies, to maintain a dialogue with you, the shareholders, and to chair the board'.

The chief executive's job would be to ensure the 'hands-on implementation of strategy, and the smooth running of the group'. One function would be to maximise co-operation between the operating divisions, run by 'skilled and strong individuals'. He denied that Alastair Robinson, head of the banking division, had threatened to leave because of the changes.

Mr Buxton promised staff morale would improve when profits improved. He was confident recovery was taking place and said there had been an encouraging start to 1993.

Shareholders appeared equally unimpressed by a move into telephone banking to compete with Midland's pioneering Firstdirect. Mr Buxton told them there was to be a pilot operation in three regions involving 10,000 customers.

Charles Stanning, a small shareholder, demanded the board take a pay cut equal to the earnings fall suffered by shareholders. Mr Buxton retorted that operating results before bad debts were extremely good last year and there was a lot the bank was doing to improve its performance. 'We will do better,' he said.

He was urged to take responsibility because he was a senior executive of the bank when the losses were made. One shareholder said: 'The worry with many of us is that you are the gentleman who got us into the mess in the first place.'

Mr Buxton replied: 'My job given to me by the board is to make this company better. I took over the company on 1 January this year and that is what we are going to do.'

Another said: 'In the good old days when boats were made of wood and pansies were flowers, they (directors) handed in their resignations . . . let somebody fresh to Barclays take over at the helm and give what was an A1 company a new direction.'

Sir Peter Middleton, the deputy chairman who was formerly a permanent secretary at the Treasury, and Lord Lawson, a director and former Chancellor, were blamed on the grounds that their economic policies were also responsible for the mess.

Sir Peter was obliged to explain what shareholders interpreted as public criticism of Barclays in an interview last year. 'You put me on the spot. I certainly wasn't criticising the board,' he said to Mr Buxton.

The finance union, BIFU, said it was taking legal action against Barclays over the bank's decision to suspend nearly 400 computer staff without pay in May 1991.

(Photograph omitted)