Members unable to nail N&P

Some members of the National & Provincial hinted strongly at the building society's annual meeting that they would be prepared to accept a takeover bid from Abbey National at the right price, regardless of the stance adopted by the board of directors.

"Everyone has a price, don't they. Mine would be about £500," said Keith Parker at the meeting at a hotel in Bradford.

He was there with 150 mainly elderly society members hoping to be given further details on the much-publicised talks to be held next month between Abbey National's chief executive, Peter Birch, and his N&P counterpart, Alastair Lyons.

"This is the first meeting I've been to and I have been a member for over 20 years," said Mr Parker, a retired Leeds University lecturer. "There doesn't seem to be much difference between being a member of a mutual society and being a shareholder in a public company.But I'm here to hear what the directors have to say before making up my mind."

Sadly for him and others present, further clarification was not on offer at the meeting. Lord Shuttleworth, N&P chairman, elegantly side-stepped questions raised from the floor about Abbey's proposed takeover.

Many of those present were in no doubt about their priorities. Eric Sunderland, a Bradford city councillor, said to loud applause: "One of my concerns is that the society should remain in the city. If Bradford is anything it is the heart of the building society movement."

Others were equally hostile. Brenda Wilkinson, a retired magistrates' clerk from Bradford, said: "I have an open mind, but it does seem as if it's all to do with bigger monopolies. If N&P merges, what happens to all their offices?"

A similar view came from Selwyn Smith, a retired engineer from Leeds. "I stand to benefit from the C&G takeover by Lloyds Bank, because I'm a member. I'm also a member of Leeds Permanent, so I should get something from the merger with the Halifax. But I am concerned that we could see people losing their jobs, all for the sake of others getting just a few pounds more."

The only detailed questions came from Yvonne Rose, a former N&P employee and now an independent financial adviser based in Leeds. She pointed out that last year N&P lent only £8m to mortgage borrowers compared with £394m in 1993 and £989m the year before. N&P's ratio of income to costs dropped from 45.6 per cent in 1993 to 46.8 per cent last year.