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Ian Brindley article

Ian Brindley

Am I a campaigner? Well you wouldn’t find me waving placards…

By George Hammond, Pension Power Organiser, ShareAction

 

Ian Brindley is a trustee of the Environment Agency Pension Fund (EAPF) and a long-time AGM activist. In a recent interview with George Hammond from ShareAction, they talked about his journey to become a member-nominated trustee, and how he uses that position to improve company behaviour and protect our environment. 

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“One, the whole investment system only works if people get involved. You don’t have to be extraordinary, attending AGMs or getting nominated to trustee boards is something that ordinary people can and should do. Two, be persistent.”

In 1973 Ian went to see Slade perform at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall. It was a time of miners’ strikes and social ferment, and Ian remembers looking down from the sanctuary of a balcony at skinheads tearing the venue to shreds. He was eleven. The ‘70s, Ian says, made him who he is today.

Today, he is a team leader at the Environment Agency, a trustee of the Agency’s £2.7bn Pension Fund, and a committed and active member of the trade union Unison. What remains of his free time is spent checking up on company reports and holding their boards to account at AGMs.

Made in the Midlands: Ian’s formative years

In the 1970’s, he became aware of what he calls societal issues. Ian grew up in the Black Country – an area defined both geographically and culturally by its coal seams and history of heavy industry – where the issues defining the decade were strife between workers and the state, and the spectre of pollution. “We were concerned about air pollution, energy shortages, three-day weeks. I grew up in an industrial town in the Black Country, where air pollution was on a scale that wouldn’t be tolerated these days. There were foundries pumping out orange smoke and if you put your washing out, it wouldn’t be long before it was covered in grit. At that time, we thought we were heading for an ice age.”

When he wasn’t fretting about the freezing over of the West Midlands conurbation, the young Ian would study company share prices in the evening paper. It was natural that when he had some spare cash he began investing in individual companies – a habit he still keeps up. The excitement, he explains, comes from trying to crack the puzzle of it: how to navigate success in the convoluted financial system?

That same desire to solve the puzzle, to improve on the design, is evident in Ian’s frequent attendance of company AGMs. “Investment stuff, AGM stuff, it’s more than a campaign, it’s a hobby”, he says, telling me he averages half a dozen company meetings a year. Ian progressed from being a small shareholder to going along to annual general meetings because he “believes in making my voice heard”. The first issue Ian wanted to be heard on was executive pay. Describing obscene pay packages for company executives such as Bob Dudley at BP, or Martin Sorrell at WPP, he says “the system has become broken”. The best way to fix it, he believes, is through shareholder pressure, “because companies are accountable to their shareholders”.

“Investment stuff, AGM stuff, it’s more than a campaign, it’s a hobby”

Ian meets ShareAction, the stars align

It was at an AGM that Ian came across ShareAction – “the organisation I had been dreaming existed”. He spotted someone in the audience who didn’t fit the mould of an ordinary shareholder. What, I ask, marks out an ordinary shareholder? Well, says Ian “that would be a man over 65, wearing a suit and dozing in anticipation of lunch.”

Since then, Ian has been a constant source of support and advice for ShareAction. At the Environment Agency Pension Fund, he has been part of the work to develop the scheme’s field-leading environmental investment policy; and he still finds time to trouble company board members on questions of executive pay.

Does he regard himself as a campaigner then? “Not really no, you won’t find me out and about waving placards. I wouldn’t call myself a campaigner, it’s just about taking responsibility.”

The power of ordinary people

There’s been no shortage of that for Ian. He has championed fair employment practices and given the voice of members and workers a platform from the earliest days of his career. A year into his first job, Ian’s employer cut a quarter of the workforce. With no union to turn to, Ian was made redundant. Having seen what could happen without effective representation, he joined the union at his next job and within 6 months was the company’s representative. “No one was willing to take the role, so I thought well I’ll do it then. I thought, this is only going to change if ordinary people get involved.”

Ian has remained an active union member ever since, and is the treasurer of his local Unison branch. Unison provided the nomination for his current trusteeship with the Environment Agency Pension Fund. While Ian sees the potency of the trade union movement ebbing in the face of increasing individualism, he still firmly believes in the importance of worker representation.

Watch Ian Brindley's video: 'The one thing I’d like to see'

“No one was willing to take the role, so I thought well I’ll do it then. I thought, this is only going to change if ordinary people get involved.”

Ian’s vision for the future

He applies the same logic to his role as trustee, advocating for clear communication with members and good governance. Governance matters, he says, because a well governed scheme means better returns for members, and reduces the chances of savings being at the mercy of investment advisors or asset managers. On member engagement, he would like to see the equivalent of an AGM for scheme members, where they could hold trustees like him to account. That is the biggest thing Ian would like to see change in the next decade, and he places responsibility for it happening on both members and schemes. Schemes can provide the tools to engage, but members have to use them. Ultimately, as Ian says, it’s your money, your planet and your responsibility.

Watch Ian Brindley's video: 'Why should you take action?'

To anyone daunted by that responsibility, Ian offers two pieces of advice. “One, the whole investment system only works if people get involved. You don’t have to be extraordinary, attending AGMs or getting nominated to trustee boards is something that ordinary people can and should do. Two, be persistent.” It took Ian four years of effort to get on the EAPF’s board. From that position he has helped craft a game-changing climate policy and affected the flow of almost £3bn worth of savings. Sometimes, he says, you just have to keep asking.

This article was first published at https://shareaction.org/am-i-a-campaigner    

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