I was shaking so much that I needed to hold onto the chair in front of me to keep my voice steady. I could feel myself getting hotter and more flustered. I needed to gather my thoughts.
What terrible fate was about to befall me? Nothing less than the shareholders of Persimmon Homes responding to my question at their AGM about the Living Wage! I’d gone off script from my carefully prepared notes and for a moment I couldn’t bring the words on the page to order. But there was no hostile reaction, only kind patience. I found my place, and supported by the written word, I laid out my arguments before the board.
We’d already had a lively discussion about the remuneration package due to the board, but had the board considered pay at the bottom of the scale? In the light of the company’s skills shortage, would it consider implementing a Living Wage? Why had it not responded to a letter about this matter from ShareAction and other investors representing £40million in assets? Would the company be prepared to discuss this further with ShareAction and the Living Wage Foundation?
The chair, Nicholas Wrigley, gave a fair answer to my question. Yes, the board had considered the Living Wage. He thought they had responded to correspondence about the matter, but would look into it to make sure. They had reviewed their policy around wages, and in particular, wanted to bring more people in house and rely less on sub-contractors. But finding they were compliant with the new Government minimum wage, they felt this was enough. This was a predictable course of wage increases which they could plan for, whereas the trajectory of the Living Wage would be uncertain.
I was feeling much more confident by now, and I’d remembered to keep hold of the microphone. As the Living Wage is based on the cost of living, by not implementing it, Persimmon Homes was just passing on the uncertainty to their staff who have to deal with cost of living rises. Did Persimmon not have a responsibility to their employees? The chair assured me that they took the welfare of their workforce very seriously and were considered to be a caring employer. This includes aiming to use fewer subcontractors, establishing more apprenticeships and a ‘Combat to Construction’ scheme helping ex-service personnel find employment.
After the meeting concluded, I approached the chair and the rest of the board on the top table. Nicholas Wrigley was keen to assure me that wages and the Living Wage were constantly under review. I had the chance to explain a little more about how the Living Wage is calculated, and suggest that more discussion with ShareAction and the Living Wage Foundation might help them understand better how it works. Jeff Fairburn, CEO, said he would talk to his HR director, Richard Latham, and agreed that a conversation with the Living Wage Foundation would be helpful. He also said that he thought a response to a letter on this matter had been sent. I was able to give him a copy of the letter sent last year, with the name and address for the reply highlighted. I’m confident that Persimmon will now respond to ShareAction about the Living Wage.
The CEO agreed to let me take a selfie with him in it, much to the amusement of the board, especially when I said I was going to tweet it! And then it was all over. It felt good to be back in the bar with a glass of wine in my hand!
So there you have it – a day in the life of a foot soldier in the AGM army. It’s quite a buzz! I wasn’t on the frontline on my own. The AGM was at York racecourse, and I attended with a colleague who lives in York, so I could rely on her for logistics and note-taking. The racecourse is a great venue, and representatives of the company were very helpful and friendly before the meeting – we were there as shareholders after all. And even after putting them on the spot with our question, we were treated with courtesy and respect. There’s nothing like bringing the issue out into public right in the heart of the business in question. I’m intrigued by what the other shareholders thought – no-one approached us afterwards. But I’m confident of a response from Persimmon and looking forward to another conversation soon!
I attended this AGM as a proxy shareholder for ShareAction. My blog also appears on their website, where you can find out more about the AGM army!