Shareholders, ignite!

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

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

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Chemistry Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

English Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

English Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: [ Megan Smith 22/09/2014 17:00:...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The racist abuse of Mario Balotelli on Twitter is disgusting, but it can be stopped

Anna Jonsson
A survey by Which? found that some of the UK’s biggest airports, including Heathrow, left travellers the most agitated  

Third-runway momentum is gathering. We need to stop it in its tracks

Mary Dejevsky
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments