St Helens StarShareholders question bonus stance (From St Helens Star)

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Shareholders question bonus stance

St Helens Star: Shareholders at Barclays have questioned the bank's policy on bonus payments. Shareholders at Barclays have questioned the bank's policy on bonus payments.

Barclays was given a bloody nose by shareholders today as one in three failed to back its controversial decision to increase its bonus pool despite falling profits.

The bank was accused of "paying for Manchester United but getting Colchester United" as a succession of speakers lined up to attack the board while the head of its remuneration committee was heckled, at a heated annual general meeting.

It also lost the support of City investment funds such as Standard Life, which owns nearly 2% of its share capital but openly denounced the pay policy at the AGM.

Board members including chairman Sir David Walker defended the bonuses, saying Barclays had to act to stem an exodus of top staff to US rivals last year - later adding there had been a "bit of irritation" at Standard Life's public intervention.

But Sir David also appeared to hint that a strategy review on May 8 would see the group take an axe to its highly-paid investment bankers.

Voting results from the AGM released following the meeting showed 24% rejected the directors' remuneration report.

They showed 7.1 million votes cast in favour and 2.2 million against but 1.4 million were withheld - far more than for any other of the AGM resolutions. It meant 34% either voted against or did not vote for the pay report.

However there was stronger support for other key measures on pay including allowing bonuses of up to twice annual salaries.

Barclays recently defied calls for restraint by hiking its staff bonus pool by 10% to £2.38 billion despite profits falling by a third and plans to cut thousands of jobs.

Investors were applauded as they took turns to attack the bonuses during the AGM.

One shareholder, Phil Clarke, questioned whether nearly 500 staff being paid £1 million were worth it - and suggested halving their packages in order to increase dividends by 50%.

Mr Clarke also described a rights issue to raise cash from shareholders as an "atrocity" and said the performance of Barclays shares suggested the market did not have confidence in the highly-paid employees.

He said: "We are paying for Manchester United but we are getting Colchester United."

Another investor, Edward O'Toole, said the bank had been "transformed from a traditional culture of banking prudence to one of management greed".

Alison Kennedy, governance and stewardship director at Standard Life Investments, said as a long-term investor it did not take lightly the decision to vote against the remuneration report, and acknowledged pressure facing the investment bank business.

"Nevertheless, we are unconvinced that the amount of the 2013 bonus pool was in the best interests of shareholders," she added.

She pointed out that it came at a time when the dividend for investors was unchanged while it had to raise £5.8 billion from shareholders, adding that the bonus hike also had "negative repercussions on the bank's reputation".

Later another fund, F&C Investments, said it too was voting against the report, citing "the imbalance between employee and shareholder returns".

It echoed earlier criticism from the Institute of Directors, which complained that the 2013 bonus pool was nearly three times the £859 million paid out in dividends to shareholders.

Sir John Sunderland, head of the remuneration committee, was heckled at the AGM when he pointedly replied that he would have appreciated Standard Life making the point during an earlier consultation process.

He said it was anticipated that the bonus decision would spark a row.

But Sir John insisted: "The easy option would have been to make a non-controversial decision around the bonus pool. There would have been no criticism.

"But we would have seen a significant further exodus from the investment bank. Instead we chose the difficult option. We believe it is in the best interest of banks and its shareholders."

The bank recently announced that Sir John is to be replaced by Crawford Gillies at a date to be set.

Sir David, the chairman, said the annual rise in the bonus pool was affected by the pay-outs being hit in the previous year in the wake of the Libor rate-rigging scandal - and even said that the cuts in 2012 has gone "too far".

The chairman said he "emphatically" acknowledged the concerns "strongly expressed" by shareholders and others about rising pay.

He told the meeting: "This is not a comfortable position to be in and we are determined to change it."

Afterwards, he was asked by reporters how he could be sure future bonuses would come down, and said: "Wait for the investment bank strategy."

It came as Barclays said it was expected to see a "small reduction" in adjusted pre-tax profits compared to last year when first quarter results are published at the start of May.

Chief executive Antony Jenkins said its fixed income, credit and commodities business within the investment bank had continued to face challenges.

Barclays announced the increase in its bonus pool in February despite a 32% drop in annual profits to £5.2 billion. It also confirmed plans to cut up to 12,000 jobs this year.

Since then it has emerged that hundreds more jobs look set to go, mainly at its investment banking arm, when Barclays announces the results of a strategic review shortly after the bank's trading update next month.

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