Tiddler scotches opportunistic carpetbaggers

City Diary

The idea of "carpetbaggers" who put small amounts of money into lots of different building societies in the hope that they will receive a cash windfall when the societies convert into banks is well known.

But it has taken Scottish Building Society to turn it into a nationalist issue. The Edinburgh-based society, which has 20,000 customers and pounds 100m in assets - a tiddler compared, say,with Nationwide - says it "has closed its doors to would-be carpetbaggers from south of the border opening small accounts in the hope of gaining a bonus in the event of the Society converting to a plc or being taken over".

Furthermore, the society's chairman is Peter Brown, the former Scottish rugby captain who led Scotland to three famous victories over England. Mr Brown declared: "We may be a relatively small society but we are financially very strong and our real members would be appalled if we were to convert or be taken over. To paraphrase the words of the Flower of Scotland we are "sending this army of speculators homeward tae think again".

Scottish Building Society is one of five that have thrown out customer activist Michael Hardern as a member. So far he has joined 52 societies.

Mr Hardern, a freelance butler, founded a group called "Members for Conversion" last year to try to persuade societies to ditch mutuality, thereby triggering bonuses. Yesterday Mr Hardern said he had also been chucked out of Norwich & Peterborough, National Counties, Portman and Market Harborough. "I'm going to exhaust their internal complaints procedures before I go to the Building Society Ombudsman," he warned last night. Under the rules he needs to persuade only 100 members of each society to petition for a "special general meeting", and he can then force the board to explain why they don't want to convert and trigger the payouts.

A spokesman for tScottish Building Society described this attitude yesterday as "quite stupid ... it is disturbing and expensive. There's no way we could afford to convert."

Congratulations to Will Hutton, the popular newly-elevated editor of the Observer, who committed his very first round of sackings on Monday. But hang on a minute - whatever happened to the caring, sharing philosophy espoused in his best-seller, The State We're In? Isn't this exactly the kind of beastly capitalist behaviour he deplores? Whatever, it suggests a new slant perhaps on what a "stakeholder" economy is: you risk getting one between the shoulder blades.

Lille, hosting the G7 jobs summit this week, has been keen to tell the world's press about the merits of its surrounding region, Nord Pas de Calais. Its information pack suffers a little in the translation: "Population: dense and young". This does not mean the place is full of Gallic Beavis and Buttheads. What it means is that the area has 319 inhabitants packed into each square kilometre, of whom 38 per cent are under 25.

The American delegates to the Lille summit expressed concern yesterday that many of the new jobs produced by their economy recently were of the low quality "burger-flipping" variety. Apparently the latest Washington joke goes: "Bill Clinton has created 8.4 million jobs - and I've got three of them."

The people who insure your racehorses can now insure your house and your family jewellery as well. Charles Hamilton is joining the board of the British Bloodstock Agency to beef up its insurance side, which started off when customers needed to insure the horses they were buying and selling. Mr Hamilton, 41, who will remain managing director of bloodstock broker Bradstock Hamilton, said: "It's like estate agents snaffling house buyers for mortgages, and then expanding into the mortgage business in its own right. We can insure the other possessions of horse owners - the farm, the wife's jewellery. We are also using the client list to sell other products." Direct Line can relax, however. There are no plans to sell insurance by phone.

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