Building societies' hat-trick

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The Independent Online
GET-RICH-QUICK "carpetbaggers" have failed in their attempt to turn the Bradford & Bingley building society into a bank. Their defeat, to be announced tomorrow, is a massive setback for the campaign, led by freelance butler Michael Harden, to force building societies to "convert" and issue windfall shares.

Last week he abandoned his attempt to win a seat on the board of the Britannia building society. In a third blow to Mr Harden the Nationwide, Britain's largest society, has announced on legal advice that his attempt to force another conversion vote is invalid. For two years running members have voted to remain a building society.

Industry sources said last night that the B&B has won its battle for survival, with around 54 per cent of votes against the proposal that the society should become a bank and issue windfall shares.

Around 60 per cent of the society's 2.5 million members voted in a ballot triggered by carpetbaggers. "We were very pleased with the turnout," a spokeswoman said. Stephen Major, the rebel B&B member who tabled the motion, admitted defeat: "I've given up hope. There are more carpetbaggers in the Bradford & Bingley than in any other society and if you can't win in the B&B there's little chance in any other organisation."

The B&B spent pounds 5m on a campaign to persuade members to reject conversion, and a Britannia spokesman said Mr Hardern's intervention had cost pounds 3m in extra postal and campaign costs.

Building societies believe Mr Hardern's eccentric behaviour is discrediting the carpetbaggers' case, but in future the battle may be taken out of both parties' hands. The Building Societies' Association is lobbying for a change to the law. At present any member needs only 50 other signatures to force a society to accept conversion motions, or a bid to elect a candidate to the board.