Just 56 doughty souls brave rainfor B&B's D-Day

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The Independent Online

It was hardly the greatest of days for shareholder democracy yesterday. As chairman Rod Kent spoke proudly of the 937,000 individuals who could boast a slice of the troubled Bradford & Bingley, only 56 had braved the rain to nod through a £400m rights issue designed to secure the bank's very future.

In the circumstances, the booking of the 12,000-capacity Sheffield Arena, a venue which normally plays host to the likes of Westlife and Def Leppard and where Neil Kinnock blew his chances of election in 1992 with a devastating display of pre-vote hubris, appeared a little like overkill. And those who made the trip down the M1 from the bank's Aire Valley heartland in West Yorkshire, where the former building society enjoys near-tribal support from local employees and customers, didn't appear to like what they heard.

"I have been a true supporter," said retired voluntary sector worker Michael Chappell from Shipley, a town equidistant from Bradford and Bingley. "I don't like to see it messed around by people coming from elsewhere. We talk about Yorkshire grit here, and frankly I did not see any Yorkshire grit coming from the board."

What came from Mr Kent, a City grandee who handled matters in headmasterly fashion, was a tale of woe and troubled times. His voice echoing in the auditorium, he told the meagre gathering of shareholders, outnumbered by the ranks of bank staff, security and journalists, that the board had been tossed on the storm of the credit crunch and urged investors to "keep their heads" until better weather blew in.

With B&B shares trading at 54p, below the 55p rights price, few small investors are expected to take up their rights entitlement. But the fund raising has been guaranteed by the bank's largest investors, Standard Life, Legal & General, Prudential and Insight Investments, who stepped in to buy £150m of stock after an American private equity firm backed out, and by leading high street banks which have sub-underwritten the deal.

Guy Jubb, head of corporate governance at Standard Life, said: "We look to your board to take steps to restore value to our clients' shareholdings in Bradford & Bingley. On this account we, and no doubt your other shareholders, will hold your board to account."

Having listened to the roll call of depressing numbers reeled off by Mr Kent – share price down 80 per cent, house transactions collapsed 40 per cent, house prices slumped 8 per cent – shareholder Peter Hepworth pointed out another inconvenient statistic: boardroom remuneration had grown by 26 per cent.

The retired stockbroker, who said he had a "substantial portfolio" of banking shares, argued the board could forego one third of their salary this year as a gesture of goodwill – a suggestion which elicited a curt "thank you" from the podium. "I still feel they have taken too much out of the company and they have run it very poorly and haven't got large shareholdings themselves," said Mr Hepworth after backing the rights issue as the only measure to "save the company".

In the end, it took less than an hour for the board to get its way. Some 93 per cent of voters backed the rights issue with 3 per cent against. Investors also backed B&B plans to pay the dividend in shares rather than cash.

One pensioner, who wished to be known only as Daphne, said: "They need to take some responsibility for their actions. If you ask me, the biggest mistake they made was when they demutualised."

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