Outlook: Liverpool Victoria

WITH FRIENDS like Liverpool Victoria, who needs enemies? Britain's biggest friendly society has been fined a record pounds 900,000 for a breathtaking failure to run its operations properly.

The customers who provide Liverpool Vic's bread-and-butter are not the most sophisticated. A good proportion probably have no bank accounts and the money they hand over on the doorstep each month may be less than they spend on scratch cards each week.

All the more reason, then, for the society to ensure that its 250 salesmen (and women) were properly trained before being let loose on an unsuspecting and unsophisticated public.

Yet the majority appear to have been wholly unsuitable for the job to begin with and unable to make the grade once proper controls were belatedly put in place.

While taking their record punishment like men, the Liverpool Vic's top men still found time to moan that cost of complying with the admittedly onerous PIA rules will force a rethink of how societies such as theirs market themselves.

Many of those who only saved because a man from the society turned up once a month on the doorstep may no longer see a salesman at all, and therefore may no longer save. All of which is bad news for the Government's wider agenda of social inclusion even if our friends from the Liverpool Vic are not missed.