C&G meeting routs rebels

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The sale of one of Britain's largest building societies to Lloyds Bank is likely to be given the go-ahead later this week despite a two- hour protest by rebel investors at the weekend.

More than 1,000 members of the Cheltenham & Gloucester Building Society packed Cheltenham town hall for a special meeting on Saturday to discuss its takeover by Lloyds for £1.8bn.

Throughout the meeting, the crowd booed, jeered and slow-handclapped the society's directors, led by the chairman, John Bays. They went on to protest against conditions of the sale, which would not give a cash bonus to investors whose share accounts were opened within the last two years.

The bonus is expected to be £500 plus an extra 13 per cent of the value of each account.

Objectors who had forced the special meeting called for the board to negotiate a deal to give them the alternative of taking shares in Lloyds instead of cash to avoid capital gains tax.

The meeting was called after 100 rebels each paid £10 and forced the directors to convene it under society rules.

A C&G spokesman later estimated the total cost of the meeting at £500,000, including staff wages, hire of the town hall, bringing in accountants to audit votes, and sending mail to the society's 1.2 million members.

Mr Bays was booed for three minutes when he announced that the directors would only listen to complaints but would not answer questions.

The society's secretary, David Jones, was clearly shaken when objectors hurled insults at him after they opposed his rulings on the way the meeting should be conducted. "Can we please have some courtesy," he demanded.

Paul Rivlin, the rebels' leader, complained that the society had failed to tell members why the sale should take place.

"They have not shown us one fact, one figure," he said. "The case has not been proved."

He went on to complain about the £1.8bn Lloyds has been prepared to offer.

"Commentators tell us that this is about the value of the assets," he said. "In a takeover, there is usually a premium of 20 to 30 per cent on the assets."

Four resolutions opposing the directors' plans were put but were all lost by majorities ranging from 14,000 to 16,000.

The resolutions opposed the two-year qualification for bonus payments, called for a Lloyds share option and demanded the reimbursement of the money paid by objectors to call the meeting. They also called for an investigation into the possibility of floating the society as a public company.

Andrew Longhurst, the society's chief executive, said: "Our difficulty has always been to produce a scheme which will satisfy the majority of our members. This one will satisfy 90 per cent of them. The other 10 per cent were the people here today."