Simon Read: 'I'm sad to see the end of another mutual dream'

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The Independent Online

Another building society bit the dust this week when the 150-year-old Norwich & Peterborough agreed to be taken over by rival Yorkshire. The N&P had little option after becoming embroiled in an investment scandal that cost it £51m to put right. But its loss should still be mourned.

The merger won't actually go through until November and, even then, the Yorkshire has announced that it intends to retain N&P's 46 branches and name, for at least two years. But come November the historic old building society will effectively cease to exist.

Its savings and mortgages will be run by the Yorkshire which has, in the last couple of years, built up quite a head of steam in rescuing ailing rivals. It took over the Barnsley two years ago and the Chelsea last year. Branches of both societies remain, but in name only, in the same way that branches of the Derbyshire and Cheshire building society are actually now branches of the Nationwide.

On the one hand it's great that the branches have remained in mutual hands and I'm fully behind the Yorkshire's growth to become Britain's second-largest building society. In fact adding N&P's branches to its network will give it pretty decent coverage across the country, which should benefit its members in terms of having access to a branch.

But the loss of so many local and regional building societies in the past few years has been very discouraging. Mutuals work best when they work for their members and, to my mind, being part of a local community is an incredibly important part of that. Once the links with the local community are gone – as will happen with N&P – then a little bit of the special attraction the society had will disappear.

Ihave not had such warm feelings towards banks this week. In fact precisely the opposite. Not to mince words, I'm disgusted by their continued attempts to avoid repaying money to the millions of people they fleeced through flogging them expensive and often unneccesary payment protection insurance.

The latest chapter in the drawn-out legal battle to force the banks to act fairly was played out on Wednesday. High Court judge Mr Justice Ouseley rejected the banks' call for a judicial review of the Financial Services Authority's demands that new rules should be applied retrospectively to the way banks sold PPI policies. The move could cost banks £4.5bn in refunds which is why they've fought it. But now is time for them to start paying.

Sadly the banks disagree and are still refusing to deal with claims while they decide whether to ask for permission to appeal against the judgment. Their continued delaying tactics stink.

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