Electricity chief adds fuel to row over Grid pay-out

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The Independent Online
More fuel was added to the squabble over the privatisation of utilities yesterday when Geoffrey Wilson, chairman of Southern Electric, joined the attack on National Grid directors who stand to make hundreds of thousands of pounds from a dividend when the company is floated later this year.

At the same time, it emerged that four directors of Southern Electric could themselves gain about pounds 1m from shares and options if the planned pounds 2.8bn takeover of the company by National Power goes ahead.

Mr Wilson, who is non- executive chairman, said he had no share options and that he and his wife paid for their 2,000 shares - worth more than pounds 20,000 at National Power's offer price of pounds 10.10 per share.

The debate over boardroom excess was intensified by David Jefferies, chairman of National Grid, who said he felt "no guilt whatsoever" about the pounds 190,000 he stands to gain from dividends on his shares when the grid is floated.

Speaking yesterday from his home in Virginia Water, Surrey, he said: "I feel simply that what I choose to do with the money will be my decision." Mr Jefferies added that he felt "very strongly" that the freedom of the individual shareholder was at stake.

The National Grid Company is owned mainly by the 12 regional electricity companies and the dividend they are to receive is intended to pay for a customer rebate and for tax levied by the Government.

Mr Wilson said yesterday that he would have preferred the Grid directors not to take their share of the dividend and that he had made his views clear to them. He joins Seeboard, another regional firm, in criticising Mr Jefferies and his colleagues.

Tim Eggar, the energy minister is known to be "incensed" at the decision of the grid directors not to waive their dividends. The Labour Party and unions are also angered at the amount of money Mr Jefferies will gain compared with the pounds 50 rebate for electricity consumers.

Mr Jefferies said: "I believe that small shareholders are entitled to a dividend in the same way as large ones. If this principle were to be bridged it could have horrendous consequences for the future." He had not decided whether to donate his dividend to charity.

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