Embattled Standard Life rejects vote on demutualisation

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The Independent Online

David Stonebanks, the retired lecturer campaigning to demutualise Standard Life, vowed to carry on his fight to convert it to a public company after the life assurer rejected having a vote on its status.

Standard yesterday threw out the demands of nearly 1,500 policyholders, led by Mr Stonebanks, to vote on its mutual status on legal technicalities. Mr Stonebanks deposited 2,317 signed forms to Standard's Edinburgh headquarters earlier this month, and 1,420 were judged to be legitimate signatures by the company. Only 1,000 signatures are needed to convene a vote, but Standard said the resolutions asking for a special general meeting were "not valid". The company had said from the start of Mr Stonebanks' campaign that it would defend its mutual status and yesterday said there were "fundamental flaws" in the resolutions, based on legal counsel.

Mr Stonebanks was yesterday undeterred by the set back, describing it as a "little hiccup. They could have gone forward with the resolution, as I had enough correct signatures, but then you get in to the situation of what they want to do and what they don't want to do. It is very disappointing", Mr Stonebanks said. He is rewording the resolutions and a new form for members to sign will be posted on his website shortly. Had Standard gone to a vote and won, it would have been safe from another demutualisation vote for three years.

Ned Cazalet, an independent insurance analyst, said: "It was quite clear what they were calling a meeting for, and there was more than enough signatures collected, but Standard has decided that doesn't matter and has nitpicked over the resolutions."

Sir Brian Stewart, the chairman, said Mr Stonebanks had been "disrupting" the business. Fighting the last demutualisation campaign in 2000 cost the company £11m.

The move comes ahead of another expected round of bonus cuts from the company next week. Standard slashed 10 per cent off bonuses in September last year, and a further 15 per cent in February this year. It remained heavily invested in equities throughout 2002 and is now passing on the cost of its £5bn investment losses to policyholders.