ACCORDING TO the Oxford dictionary, a ‘shill’ is defined as: “a person who pretends to give an impartial endorsement of something in which they themselves have an interest.” The word has lost much of its power in Scotland due to its overuse by certain types of Scottish Nationalist. But it still maintains a visceral resonance when used in the correct context. Scottish newspaper columnist of the year, Chris Deerin, a leading high profile partner in PR lobbying communications firm Charlotte Street Partners, has earned another unofficial title – Corporate Shill of the Year. Shurely shome mishtake? AhDinnaeKen explains:
By Longshanker aka @ergasiophobe – corporate shill correspondent
“Tonight’s event is sponsored by SSE, a company which has been thinking hard about its place in society. While I am sure it would never claim to be perfect, SSE has taken a few significant steps.” – Chris Deerin, Charlotte Street Partners, June 2015.
The ‘few significant steps’ taken toward perfection by energy giant SSE were dutifully specified by Chris as:
1) “In September 2013, it was accredited as a Living Wage employer, the largest FTSE 100 company with that status at the time.”
All very worthy of self serving self adulatory back slaps all round. What Chris naturally failed to mention was a BBC news story from February 2015 which reported:
“Energy giant SSE has been named by the UK government as one of 70 companies that failed to pay workers the minimum wage.”
A year and a half after gaining the Living Wage employer accreditation, SSE were named and shamed by the government for failing to pay some of their workers the bare minimum of the minimum wage. Oh dear!
To reinforce the reach and intent of SSE’s living wage strategy, Chris also revealed:
2) “It has also implemented a Living Wage requirement in every service and works contract in its supply chain, which is worth £2.2 billion.”
A quick scan of SSE’s supply chain demonstrates a wide scale need of engineering expertise and services where most workers are likely to be paid more than the living wage – currently set at £7.85 per hour.
In its general support contract requirements, for example, SSE sub-contract provider companies for; confined space support, mechanical support, scaffolding support, controls and instrumentation and cladding support.
All of these services mostly require skilled tradesmen and professionals to fulfil their contractual responsibilities. For instance, the expected average wage of a scaffolder at current market rate is around £37,500 per annum – almost double the London adjusted living wage of £9.15 per hour.
So SSE’s Living Wage accreditation seems to be what it is – corporate glossed tokenism wrapped up in mostly empty gestures.
According to SSE’s corporate brochure they employ around 20,250 people.
On the 30th October 2015, Utility Week filed the following report on the energy giant: “By April 2016 400 full time equivalent employees in the supply chain will have received a pay rise.
“SSE said the commitment would raise the wages of 800 workers in its supply chain by five times..”
Impressive? Maybe. But it reinforces the “tokensim” claim. 800 workers is less than 4 per cent of SSE’s claimed workforce. It reeks of gesture politicking – no more, no less.
And, it begs the question, why has it taken SSE almost 3 years to implement from Sep 2013’s trumpeted Living Wage accreditation? Maybe Chris could answer that on Twitter. Probably not.
Deerin’s gushing SSE eulogy can be read in its entire corporate apologist glory here. It echoes a Cap-X piece test written by him in March where he pontificated over a more caring, humane corporate culture – citing SSE as a leading example. According to Chris:
“Companies, in this view, are cultural entities as well as economic ones. The way they behave sets a tone, exposes their priorities and motivations, speaks to the nature of our wider society and the kind of people we are and want to be.”
Words of wisdom indeed. Especially when you take into consideration the “tone” set by SSE’s previous and present ‘behaviour’.
In March 2015, the Guardian reported: “SSE, one of the big six energy suppliers, has been forced to pay a £100,000 penalty after it was found to have overcharged for wholesale power provided to the National Grid.”
Or in the Telegraph from April 2013: “SSE, one of the country’s largest energy companies, has been fined £10.5m for “prolonged and extensive” mis-selling by regulator Ofgem – the largest penalty ever for an energy supplier” – the fine would have been £50 million, but mostly spineless watchdog, Ofgem, settled for the lesser figure after SSE threatened to take the matter court-side.
Or, consider this from the website of small energy firm Entu: “SSE was fined £1.75m by Ofgem in December 2014 for failing to meet obligations to provide free insulation to low-income households.”
As recently as 30 Oct 2015, the Mail reported: “The big power companies have come under mounting pressure from consumer groups in recent days to slash tariffs after their input costs fell to a five-year low. But Scottish Power, E.ON and SSE have rejected charges of profiteering, saying that they regularly review the costs that make up their bills.”
And then there’s today’s Daily Mail headline story illustrated above.
So yes, SSE’s behaviour certainly “sets a tone” – a glaring, harsh, exploitative, in your face, monotone of corporate gloss, corporate greed and corporate profiteering. But not according to corporate lapdog Chris Deerin.
In his corporate apologist world, he no doubt believes that his brand of corporate snake oil emollient has helped ‘recontextualise extensible models’™ of the SSE corporate image. Or something.
It demonstrates how far Deerin has travelled since he left the safe cosy corporate journalism world of the Telegraph commentary department to the even safer, more secretive, more rewarding, corporate shill department of Charlotte Street Partners (CSP).
Journalists, according to polling from the 90’s to the present day, rank lower in public trustability ratings than politicians.
Deerin, with his shiny new gamekeeper turned poacher turned gamekeeper/poacher status, is even lower than that. Virtually everything he has to say, whether it be in print, Twitter or elsewhere, will always have that whiff of ulterior motive corporate shilliness about it.
His word and action over the past few months has certainly set the ‘tone’ and demonstrated the ‘motivation’. And he’s shown the teeny wee world of parochial inward looking insular Scotland just how little it needs that kind of ‘behaviour’.
AhDinnaeKen sarcastically doffs the cap and tugs the forelock to the new Masters of the MacUniverse, Charlotte Street Partners and Chris Deerin. Their barefaced audacity of polishing turds for the corporates of the world requires a virtual brass neck. The problem with turd polishers, however, is that they end up neck deep in the stuff they’re polishing.
Take a bow for your corporate masters Chris. A shill in need is a shill indeed.