Thames Water, Britain’s largest and most influential water company, has managed to come up £250 million short in its workers’ pension pot while it’s owners squirreled away more than £2 billion in dividends into foreign accounts.
When the company was sold to a conglomeration of investors in 2005, Thames Water already had a £38 million pension-pot deficit. However, in the 11 years since then, that deficit has grown by more than 655% to reach £249 million! At the same time, the consortium is believed to have siphoned off at least £1.6 billion in assets and dividends. This predatory investment strategy has been seen before, with the collapse of retail giant BHS coming as the direct result of such practices this year. Between 2001 and 2004 the owners of BHS earned £423 million from the chain while growing a £571 million black hole in the pension pot. The deficit has already been investigated by Martin Blaiklock, the former Utilities Director for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, but government investigators are also finally being dispatched to deal with the problem.
This investigation begins alongside MPs looking at developing counters to such schemes, which could see the bosses of predatory companies forced to defend their actions in Parliament.
The BHS pensions scandal is currently under investigation by the Work and Pensions Select Committee, and the investigation will not end there. Frank Field, chairman of the investigatory committee, has promised that Thames Water will face the same inquisition.
The investigation on the whole aims to determine how much money is being sucked out of companies by their investors – like Macquarie, the head of the international investing conglomerate that is preying on Thames Water. Macquarie is known as the Vampire Kangaroo as it is an Australian company with a powerful reputation for predatory stripping-away of assets and draining of the companies that it buys.
Macquarie has also aggressively slashed the taxes paid by Thames Water, saddling the company with an additional £8.4 billion of debt and only paying £100,000 in corporation tax, and causing a fury in 2013 after bosses at the company said it might be another ten years before they pay any more tax.
On top of all this, they have also diverted funds to run operations in the Cayman Islands, a commonly known tax haven.
Macquarie is currently trying to sell its remaining 26% shareholding in the company, looking for offers exceeding £3 billion, some of which will be used to reduce the astronomical debt the company is in. The rest will go into Macquarie’s pockets.
Thames Water itself does not seem extraordinarily concerned with the gaping, endless abyss where their pension pot should be. A spokesman reassured press today that a recovery plan is “in place, with an independent chair and £20.3 million being paid in each year.”
He also assured those present that the pensions deficit was “purely the responsibility of the company, which remains committed to meeting all its pension obligations.”
Watch this space to see whether those obligations will be met, or whether Thames Water will implode spectacularly in the grasp of the Vampire Kangaroo.
If you want to ask Thames Water about their pensions or their plans to tackle such an enormous deficit, you can call Thames Water on this line.