Organisation: Lloyds TSB
Issue: Proposed takeover of Abbey National
Like a recurring dream, the latest merger proposal from the retail banking sector threw up spectres of redundancies and branch closures.
While Corus was hitting newspaper front pages with the threat of 6,000 job losses in typically Labour-voting Wales and Teeside, the latest installment of the Lloyds TSB stalking of Abbey National was reduced to the business sections, even though estimated job losses ranged from 9,000 to 15,000 in the more marginal south-east constituencies.
Therefore it wasn't a surprise that 30 parliamentary colleages signed an early day motion laid down by Labour MP for Reading West Martin Salter demanding that the merger should be referred to the OFT and thence to the Competition Commission. Few commentators doubted it would not be, with many considering the bid to be doomed to ultimate failure.
Several mentioned that the current bid for Abbey lodged with the DTi, that of the Bank of Scotland, was in danger of being swamped by the latest developments from the Lloyds camp and there was even a suggestion that the Royal Bank of Scotland, fresh from integrating its operations with NatWest, might enter the fray.
Jason Nisse of the Independent on Sunday (4/2) was particularly pessimistic, pronouncing the takeover plan 'doomed to fail even if it succeeds' and comparing it rather eloquently with the Charge of the Light Brigade (he compared Lloyds boss Peter Ellwood with the Earl of Cardigan, facing severe credibility damage if not a fatal end).
While some commentators saw it as just another merger skirmish, Claire Oldfield, writing in the Mail on Sunday's Financial Mail (4/2), wrote her story under the strident headline 'More than a battle for one company - it's a fight for the future of banking'.
There was little evidence of the hand of PR departments in either the Lloyds announcement or Abbey National's riposte. There was some mud slinging over Abbey's current advertising campaign which claims that more personal accounts are moving their way from the Big Four, under straplines such as 'HSBC you later?' and 'Lloyds names missing?'.
In the face of contradictionary claims by Barclays and HSBC, an Abbey spokesman was quoted as saying 'The softly, softly approach doesn't work. If this is in your face, too bad'.