Companies use Annual General Meetings (AGMs) to show shareholders how well the Directors are running the company. With the right planning, and access to company shares, they are a good opportunity for campaigners to raise issues with key decision-makers.
Thanks to our friends at ShareAction who lent him a share, Dave Richards from the London Cladding Action Group attended developer Barratt’s AGM on 13 October. The meeting was held on a hybrid physical/virtual basis with a small number of other shareholders in attendance, able to speak directly to the Barratt Board of Directors.
In their opening remarks the Chairman John Allan and the Chief Executive David Thomas failed to mention the building safety crisis. Dave Richards addressed the board and first noted this omission.
The Chairman, John Allan, responded that it had been an exceptional year for the company. He argued that they were in a strong financial position and had the support of the Government, but did not address the point raised. Mr Thomas was keen to emphasise their 5-Star Home Builders Federation (HBF) Customer Service rating and his view that they led the way on sustainability. This 5-star rating is one that is repeatedly trotted out by developers as somehow being proof of their reputation for good customer service; however, the HBF is a trade association that represents private sector homebuilders in England and Wales and calls itself “the voice of the industry” so is not an independent observer. And as all innocent leaseholder victims of this crisis are fully aware, it has been the polar opposite of an “exceptional year”, with lives stuck in limbo and people forced to pay to fix serious fire safety issues they played no part in creating.
These were the additional comments Dave Richards made at the AGM, with his temporary shareholder hat on:
“The building safety crisis has exposed serious flaws in the construction industry, it is not just a Barratt’s issue. This has extended well beyond the external wall systems to internal fire safety issues. Some of Barratt’s customers are now facing financial ruin for purchasing one of your homes; that should never be the case: Barratt has taken their money and provided a shoddy product. I am not proud of it and no shareholder can be – Barratt has made profit under false pretences.
“While it is an industry-wide problem, I think Barratt should lead the way. You have an opportunity to champion yourselves as a leader of customer service and ensure customers are proud to have a Barratt home. While I welcome the money put aside already to cover the cost, we all know that is nowhere near enough to right all the wrongs. I put it to the board to do the right thing and fund in full all the work needed to make leasehold homes in tower blocks safe, if the government do not provide funding, to ensure Barratt’s customers are not out of pocket for any failings on fire safety?”
In response, Dave Thomas, CEO of Barratt Plc, said that they were watching to see the Government’s stance following the change of Secretary of State and the outcome on the proposed levies before considering more support. He also noted that the government had committed £5bn and Barratt had also put aside some funding.
Dave was allowed a further response and noted the full cost was estimated to be £15bn, which meant a potential shortfall of £10bn to be forced onto leaseholders. He added that, in the short term, it may be seen as expensive to remediate their blocks but, in the long term, it would have huge benefits, if people knew Barratt homes were of guaranteed quality and had a truly strong customer-service reputation.
There was one follow-up question by another shareholder on how much Barratt had put aside for remediation, which was good to see as it reflected concern about the issue amongst other shareholders.
Dave found it very useful to attend the AGM and to ensure the boards of developers are aware that we are not going to go away. We will continue to hold them accountable, we will challenge them and bring the building safety crisis to the attention of their shareholders. We strongly encourage other affected leaseholders to attend the AGMs of the developers and builders who have failed to provide a safe home in which to live.
Take a look at the ShareAction website for tips on how to get involved
The End Our Cladding Scandal campaign calls on the Government to lead an urgent, national effort to fix the building safety crisis.
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