A few weeks ago GMB members at the Britvic factory at Carrow Road asked if I would accept one of their shares in the company - a proxy shareholder - and to speak for them at the company’s Annual General Meeting (AGM).
If, like myself, you’ve never experienced the world of so called ‘share-holder democracy’ then I can only describe my experience as confirmation that current corporate governance is at present a joke.
I believe it was the US Foreign Secretary Henry Kissinger who, upon sauntering into a press conference, addressed the assembled world media with the words, “So, does anyone here have any questions for my answers?” This then pretty much sums up what transpired in the 57 minutes the shareholders were given to hold to account the decisions made this past year. In effect it felt like little more than a formality. Something confirmed by the body language and platitude laden answers of these obscenely paid executives.
Decisions to extinguish the livelihood of hundreds of workers and their families; to damage the Norwich economy by millions of pounds every year; to end a 90 year-old institution which has been an integral part of our city for four generations - taken with the same level of consideration a cow might give to flicking off a fly with its tail. This then I discovered was the reality of the free-market, corporate, share-holder democracy we’ve been told for so long is the best way to run our economy.
Below are the questions I asked in full - and this video contains some of my thoughts on camera shortly after attending he AGM. There are no answers featured with the exception of the first because there was little of genuine meaning expressed.
"Can the Board explain why there was no warning to shareholders about the potential impact on the Business Capability Programme of reversing the decision to close the Norwich Plant?" (This was asked to assess whether Britvic entered into meaningful consultations with the workforce to look at options, including keeping production at the Carrow Road site. The BCP is a capital investment fund that has been prepared to help the company move Norwich production to other parts of the country. If the company was seriously considering keeping production in Norwich ie a meaningful consultation, they’d have warned shareholders this was the case. They didn’t thus confirming the suspicion Britvic was not serious about engaging a genuine
"As part of good governance, given the Board made the original decision to close the site, can the Board confirm why it did not review any of the alternative proposals to maintain operations at Norwich?"
"One of the Companies four strategic pillars is to build trust and respect in our communities - can the Board explain two things - firstly why did the Independent Directors twice refuse invitations to meet members of the Norwich community and workforce and secondly how is this being applied in Norwich?" - there is a dispute over the size of the redundancy packages
"Is the Board concerned at losing the Robinsons heritage and legacy, and whether that will negatively impact the Goodwill charge (assets valued more highly than their strict book value because of historical legacy, brand recognition, quality etc) in the annual report?"
"Norwich Britvic workers have just voted by 83% to support indicative industrial action over pay and the redundancy offer made to them. Given they’re being offered the statutory minimum - despite their historic contribution to the brand and given the predominantly low paid job market in Norwich - will the board promise workers and shareholders to do right by the Norwich workforce?"
Watch more of my reaction IN THIS VIDEO.