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

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls  

The campaigns to end FGM are a welcomed step, but they don't go far enough

Charlotte Rachael Proudman
Our political system is fragmented, with disillusioned voters looking to the margins for satisfaction  

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game