Privatised power bosses give themselves £72m in shares

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The Independent Online
The 77 leading directors of the privatised electricity industry in England and Wales, and a small number of their executives, have awarded themselves more than £72m in share options, Labour Party research has discovered.

Their bonanza, equivalent to a charge of more than £4 for every household in the country,is prompting Labour to frame legislation to curtail "greed in the boardroom". However, Lord Tebbit, the former Tory Party chairman, said last night that the amounts involved were "tiny".

Labour's private policy research shows that excess executive pay is now the Government's largest vulnerability. An internal party document says: "Three months ago this was a middle-level issue. Now it is producing massive anger from all voting and class groups."

Labour's inquiries have found that the 12 directors (plus a small number of senior executives) entitled to share options in the two big generating companies, Powergen and National Power, have alone awarded themselves share options worth more than £22,901,856.

The 65 directors entitled to cheap shares in the 12 distribution companies (regional electricity companies, or Recs, such as Seeboard in the South or Norweb in the North-west) have given themselves a total of £49,714,879, an average of £764,844 each.

The increases in wages the electricity bosses have awarded themselves are no less spectacular. The wage bill for the full list of 116 directors of the regional companies before privatisation stood at £3,237,000: an average annual director's emolument of £27,905. It is now £12,884,707: an average of £111,075.

Norweb's 10 directors shared £920,000 in salaries last year, and six of them have also been given share options totalling more than £3.5m. Before privatisation, the old North West Electricity Board cost only £250,000 in salaries. That figure has now risen by 1,600 per cent.

"This is one scandal on top of another," the Shadow Chancellor, Gordon Brown, said last night. "The abuse of the privatised utilities seems to know no bounds. Ordinary people will rightly be angry as they see top bosses creaming off millions of pounds in profits instead of cutting prices to consumers."

Lord Tebbit, the former Tory chairman and privatisation enthusiast, saw it differently. "Whatever view anyone might take about the very high rewards paid to a very few managers in these businesses, it is clear that the amounts involved are tiny indeed beside the benefit to both customers and taxpayers."

Gordon Brown will this week table an amendment to the Finance Bill requiring executive pay packages to be approved by a vote of all shareholders. Failure to observe this principle would make companies liable to corporation tax on the multi-million salary and perks deals directors award each other. The amendment is certain to meet stiff hostility from the Treasury.

The Opposition is forcing a parliamentary debate and vote on "divided Britain" on Tuesday, immediately after Sir Desmond Pitcher, chairman of North West Water, tries to justify his pay package to the Commons Employment Select Committee.

Mr Brown said: "The new clause in the Finance Bill will include proposals that directors of privatised utilities who pay themselves huge salary rises without holding a vote at the company's annual general meeting will lose tax privileges. John Major says it is a matter for shareholders what their directors receive. We intend to give every shareholder the opportunity to vote on executive pay packages."

The Shadow Chancellor's move coincides with the disclosure of figures showing that the annual cost of Family Credit paid to those on low incomes has more than doubled in four years, from £425m to more than £1bn.

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Gordon Brown, page 23