National: Nearly a third of shareholder votes fail to back Barclays over executive pay

BARCLAYS was stung by its shareholders today as nearly a third of their votes failed to back the bank’s bumper pay awards.

Following a heated annual meeting, Barclays revealed that 32% of investors voted against or withheld votes for the bank’s pay report, while 24% failed to back remuneration committee chairman Alison Carnwath.

Chief executive Bob Diamond sparked anger among shareholders when it emerged he would receive �17.7 million in salary, bonus, benefits and vested long-term share awards last year, despite admitting his bank’s performance was “unacceptable” in 2011.

At a packed annual general meeting in London, Barclays chairman Marcus Agius was confronted with heckling, shouting and heated questions over the bank’s remuneration, in particular in respect of Mr Diamond.

While apologising for failing to engage with shareholders, Mr Agius said “the brutal reality” was that paying “zero bonus” was not an option.

Responding to a shareholder question about why Mr Diamond merited any bonus at all, Mr Agius said: “We operate in an international competitive industry. We have to fight for our business every day.

“It’s not an option to pay zero bonus. We would be so far out of line with our competitors that the commercial consequences would be dire.”

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However, there was also anger among shareholders that the ratio of pay and bonuses to dividends was three to one.

One said: “Barclays is not run for its shareholders, but as a milch cow for its officers and staff.”

Barclays is expected to receive a bloody nose from shareholders when the outcome of votes at the AGM is released later today.

There was speculation in advance of today’s meeting that as many as one third of shareholder votes will go against the reappointment of remuneration committee chairman Alison Carnwath and the 2011 pay report.

The Local Authority Pension Fund Forum, the Pensions & Investment Research Consultants and the Association of British Insurers warned members over the pay scheme.

And institutional investors, including Fidelity, Aviva and Scottish Widows, said they would vote against the report or re-election of Ms Carnwath.

Defending pay, Ms Carnwath said: “We reduced awards significantly in 2011.”

In response, one shareholder heckled “not enough”, triggering laughter and applause from the auditorium.

Ms Carnwath went on: “We will continue to seek to push down remuneration levels in the context of the environment in which we operate.”

Ms Carnwath was met with further taunts, such as: “Why have you only just woken up to this?”

Mr Agius later called for the meeting to be held in a “responsible” and “adult” manner.

Yesterday, the bank reported an adjusted return of equity of 12.2% in the quarter - a key figure as Barclays has pledged to hit annual return of equity of 13%.

Mr Diamond previously told shareholders it was “unacceptable” that the bank recorded a return of equity of just 5.8% in 2011, down from 7.2% the previous year.

Yesterday, the bank recorded a 22% rise in first quarter underlying pre-tax profits to �2.4 billion.

Last week, the American banker tried to win support for the pay report by offering to sacrifice half of his �2.7 million all-shares bonus for 2011 if certain performance targets are not met within three years.

However, a �5.7 million tax payment made on Mr Diamond’s behalf when he moved from the United States to London to take up the role sparked particular anger among investor groups.

Outside the meeting in the pouring rain, there were dozens of protesters from the World Development Movement and Robin Hood Tax campaign.

The Robin Hood campaigners posed with a giant cheque to represent the implied subsidy provided to banks by the taxpayer.

Diarmaid McDonald, 31, with the Robin Hood movement, said: “We should not be held to ransom by the financial sector. They are as much part of this society as we are.”