Nationwide priced at pounds 7bn if rebels win

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The Independent Online
Nationwide Building Society will be putting itself up for sale if the result of a members' ballot, expected later today, backs five rebel candidates standing for the board on a platform opposed to mutuality.

The society's announcement that it would be inviting bids for itself in an auction worth up to pounds 7bn in the event of losing the ballot, came despite suggestions from some observers that it had won.

John Wrigglesworth, a former building society analyst and now a senior manager at Bradford & Bingley, said: "Everything about how this ballot has been conducted in the past few weeks suggests to me that the Nationwide board has won. They appear to be heightening the tension to underline the scale of their victory."

The postal ballot closed at 11am yesterday and the votes have been counted by the Electoral Reform Ballot Services. A Nationwide spokesman said yesterday that senior executives at the society now knew the results, which had been "decisive". The candidates themselves, who include rebel campaigner Michael Hardern and four of his colleagues, will be told at lunchtime today.

He added: "Brian Davis [Nationwide chief executive] has made it clear that in the event of a victory for the rebel candidates, it would mean the end of building societies as we know it, with all the implications that follow. If the vote is won, we recognise that the debate is not over as far as mutuality is concerned.""If members have voted for the dissident candidates, we will be seeking to discuss a takeover by another institution. Clearly, in that case, there would be implications in terms of the competitive nature of our products."

So-called "carpetbagging" by speculators opening building society accounts in the hope that they will float and pay out windfalls, has increased sharply. in recent months.

Nationwide has been besieged by new customers to such an extent that it was forced last month to suspend all new account openings.