New research reveals the huge pay bonanza enjoyed by the directors of the privatised companies, reopening the row about "fat-cat" salaries.
The new study extends far wider than a few chairmen and chief executives and takes in the pay of all utility directors, including non-executives. This shows the wage bills of the utility boards have risen from a total of pounds 5.2m when they were nationalised to pounds 30.5m post-privatisation.
This compares with a rise in average earnings over the past decade, from pounds 184.70 in 1986 to pounds 352 today. While average pay has not even doubled, utility boardroom salary bills have climbed six-fold over, in some cases, a far shorter period.
In all, 215 directors are sharing the pounds 30.5m, giving them average remuneration of around pounds 150,000.
The research shows that the biggest gains are not confined to those companies which have attracted "fat-cat" headlines in the past year. Among those heading the charge is Yorkshire Electricity, where the directors' pay packet has soared from pounds 167,000 before privatisation to pounds 1.1m after.
Likewise, Eastern Electricity directors are paid a total of pounds 1.2m more than before their company was privatised.
The figures do not include share options, but they cover salary, taxable benefits, performance bonuses and pension contributions. When options are added in, they would be even higher.
In a league of their own are the two giants, British Telecom and British Gas. When they were state-owned their boardrooms each cost less than pounds 500,000. Today, their boards earn millions of pounds. BT directors have seen their total remuneration go up from pounds 489,000 to pounds 3.4m, while at British Gas their pay has increased by a similar proportion, from pounds 495,000 to pounds 3.4m.
The study, which was carried out by Labour, will provide further ammunition for the party's argument for a utility windfall tax. Alan Milburn,Labour's Treasury spokesman, said: "The Tories have failed to stamp out boardroom excess in the privatised utilities. Abuse in the privatised boardrooms is a modern form of highway robbery, taking from the many to finance the excesses of the few. The windfall gains made by a few fat cats show the utilities can well afford a levy to help the minority."
Mr Milburn added: "Consumers are paying the price of abuse in the form of higher bills and poorer service. These latest figures show that voluntary self-regulation agreed after the Greensbury Committee report is simply not working."
Directors' remuneration in the privatised utilities
No. directors Board pre-privatisation Board 1996
British Telecom 13 pounds 489,000 pounds 3,487,000
British Gas 12 pounds 495,000 pounds 3,413,000
Regional Water Companies:
Anglian 11 pounds 345,000 pounds 814,000
Severn Trent 10 pounds 397,000 pounds 1,249,900
Southern 9 n/a pounds 857,000
South West 11 pounds 106,000 pounds 947,000
Thames 9 pounds 103,000 pounds 1,051,000
Wessex 10 pounds 159,000 pounds 682,000
Yorkshire 11 pounds 214,000 pounds 874,000
Total 71 pounds 1,324,000 pounds 6,474,900
Regional Electricity Companies:
East Midlands 8 pounds 185,000 pounds 1,297,971
Eastern 11 pounds 422,000 pounds 1,620,971
London 10 pounds 228,000 pounds 1,055,000
Midlands 9 pounds 200,000 pounds 982,000
Northern 8 pounds 200,000 pounds 1,336,000
Norweb(united Utilities) 10 pounds 250,000 pounds 920,000
South Wales (Hyder) 10 pounds 476,000 pounds 1,005,000
Southern 8 pounds 185,000 pounds 1,100,000
Yorkshire 11 pounds 167,000 pounds 1,111,300
Total 85 pounds 2,313,000 pounds 10,427,271
National Power 14 pounds 646,000 pounds 3,088,807
Powergen 11 n/a pounds 2,015,901
National Grid 9 n/a pounds 1,688,000
Utilities Total 215 pounds 5,267,000 pounds 30,594,879
Remuneration includes salary, taxable benefits, performance bonuses & pension contributions. Not optionsReuse content