Mutuals receive short shrift

That long-promised Building Societies Bill may not have done much to protect what is rapidly becoming an endangered species, but it certainly seems to have set Angela Knight's pulse racing. The Treasury Minister told the Building Societies Association's annual conference last May that she was "pressing, urging, kicking, shouting, pushing, requesting, asking and nagging in order to get the parliamentary time [for this Bill] as soon as possible". And, she reminded her audience, she is "a good nagger". Not good enough, it seems.

The Treasury admitted yesterday that the Bill will not figure in the Queen's Speech, and there was only the vaguest of possibilities that it would be resurrected at a later stage.

Poor Mrs Knight. The unfortunate truth is that this watered-down Bill would not actually have done much to revive the slowly dying mutual movement in any case. There was a bit of tinkering at the edges to put building societies on a more equal footing with banks, some measures to improve accountability, and some anti-takeover clauses, but it was hardly enough to stem the tide of conversion and takeover. All the same, it was something. There's to be no lifeline of any variety now.

The fact that the Government cannot find any time amid a legislative programme cluttered with such measures of such obvious and vital public importance as the National Heritage Memorial Fund Bill doesn't say much for the regard in which it holds building societies.

Ministers seem to care more about Britain's stock of stately homes than its last remaining mutuals.

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