By Sally Cooke, member of ShareAction’s AGM Army

1 May 2015

It’s been a whole year since I did my AGM Army training with Christian Aid and ShareAction, and my decision to ask a question at the Centrica AGM this year was taken in rather a rush. I’ve never been to a company AGM before (unless you count Triodos Bank which is a bit more like a festival than an AGM). So I boarded my train to London not quite knowing what to expect, and feeling a little unfamiliar in my ‘business’ clothes – I haven’t had to wear those since I retired!

My neighbour on the train turned out to be a former journalist at The Economist. He spotted me reading my prepared question for the AGM and commented, “give ’em hell!” I was heartened by his encouragement. I was also relieved that I allowed extra time to get there, as the train was 50 minutes late. A rapid trip across London by Tube and DLR, and I arrived at the AGM ten minutes before the start, to find airport-style security in progress and a long and frustrated queue of shareholders.

Safely inside, time to grab a quick coffee and a biscuit (have I missed the proper bunfight, I wondered?), and I was into the conference hall, checking with the steward if I needed to sit anywhere special to ask a question (no), and finding a seat amongst the audience of about 300 shareholders.

The AGM kicked off with fairly brief presentations from the Chairman and Chief Executive – rather apologetic in tone, as the Board has decided to reduce the company dividend for the first time ever. And then the chairman announced that he would now take questions from the floor. Suddenly my heart was hammering and I could feel sweat breaking out. Still, I raised my hand at once, and was called after about four other people. The steward passed me the microphone and I was off. My nerves were gone, and I remembered to speak slowly and clearly. I read my prepared question, asking if the company will apply for the Fair Tax Mark, an independent audit to show that they are being completely transparent over tax and paying their obligations in full.

The chairman gave a reassuring but slightly vague reply, so – having held on to the microphone – I pressed him to report back at next year’s AGM, which he agreed to do, and mentioned in an aside: “we hadn’t heard about this [Fair Tax Mark] before”. Wow, I thought – job done. And just to make sure, I cruised the post-AGM tea and biscuits area (still no bunfight), to give contact details to the Company Secretary, with whom I can follow up later.

I feel elated by having achieved the result we hoped for, and on reflection it felt enjoyable and worthwhile. I definitely wouldn’t have had the courage to do this without the thorough training and briefing from ShareAction – thanks guys!

Thanks, Sally! Click here to find out more about the AGM Army and sign up for one of ShareAction’s free training sessions today.