Shareholders, ignite!

British Gas can expect a lively AGM today, says Alex Salmond

Share
Related Topics
The Annual General Meeting of British Gas at the Docklands' London Arena today will see the first public actions of a new movement - the movement for sovereignty by shareholders over the companies they are meant to own. And despite the almost inevitable defeat - today at least - at the hands of large institutions, what takes place will mark the beginning of the end for insensitive and acquisitive directors of the former public utilities.

At the AGM today, I shall be representing 1,400 small shareholders and former staff, with about 700,000 shares to speak for. Professor Joe Lamb of the "Gas Greed" campaign will carry another 500,000 votes. This is a drop in the ocean compared to the millions of shares in the hands of pension funds and other large investors, but it represents unprecedented revulsion at the decline of a once great company.

At the heart of this revulsion lies a disagreement about what British Gas should be. The small shareholders and the staff believe it is, and always should be, a utility - privately owned and profitable, but still with public service as its first duty. Richard Giordano and his board seem to believe they are running just another energy company: a big one, trying to get bigger, but free for ever of its roots and previous social obligations.

Since Mr Giordano became chairman of British Gas in January 1994, he has ruthlessly sought that goal. As a result, the only thing that has risen faster than the executive salaries has been the level of complaints from customers. Jobs have been cut and offices closed in the drive for more and more profit with less and less service. Public anger at the level of pay for those who run the company has been ignored. John Major may talk up the rights of individual shareholders, but the largest shareholders can wield their block votes with as little sensitivity as the worst of the trade union barons at the Labour Party Conference. The time is coming when there will have to be procedures to allow small shareholders to influence decision-making in the companies and institutions they own, and procedures to let their disapproval be noted and acted upon. The City of London appears to be the last bastion of those who have power without responsibility. It cannot last for ever.

That is why today the small shareholders will try to sack the British Gas board. And why they will not be mollified by nods and winks from the institutions that "a quiet word behind the scenes" will make the difference.

No doubt this afternoon Mr Giordano and his colleagues will breathe a sigh of relief and return to their agenda for the future of a company that they don't understand. But the small shareholders and staff will go back home, determined to continue to protest at the way privatisation has gone sour.

The Tories opened a Pandora's box when they privatised the utilities. They thought that mass private shareholding with small instant returns would provide a smokescreen behind which the big players could simply make bigger profits. Out of the box - fuelled by the shameless insensitivity of the privatised companies - has come a movement for true democratic control of public services, and a determination to achieve that by moulding the institutions of City power to the rights of those who pay the piper.

Time is running out for the fat cats. The gravy train is about to be derailed by those who are fed up paying for it.

The author is MP for Banff and Buchan and leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable