Behind The Headlines: Fight for Abbey National reaches final stage

The protracted lobbying around the battle for control of Abbey National will climax this week when Office of Fair Trading director-general John Vickers rules on whether to refer Lloyds TSB's bid to the Competition Commission.

The protracted lobbying around the battle for control of Abbey National will climax this week when Office of Fair Trading director-general John Vickers rules on whether to refer Lloyds TSB's bid to the Competition Commission.

The bid, defence and counter-bid process has involved a range of interested parties. A rival bid by the Bank of Scotland was waved through the OFT two weeks ago, since this merger was not thought likely to create too dominant a player in UK banking. Lloyds TSB's offer, entailing more acute competition issues, has not been so fortunate.

In addition to the obvious need to keep the news media apprised of developments, the companies and organisations involved have been furiously lobbying behind the scenes.

The bid by Lloyds TSB values the target company at more than pounds 17bn. The clear issue of market share in such a vast merger led Lloyds TSB to take the unusual step of composing a fantasy team of lobbyists from different agencies to help jump regulatory hurdles. Finsbury associate Rory Chisholm and Citigate Public Affairs consultant Charles Miller find themselves, unusually, on the same side of a major transaction.

Abbey retains Bell Pottinger Financial for media relations on the bid.

It also uses Brunswick, as, ironically and in a separate account, does BoS. Competition expert GJW was also thought to be working for BoS, but agency sources insist it stopped this work when hired by the rival Royal Bank of Scotland on that bank's NatWest takeover last year.

Abbey also retains Connect Public Affairs, though this agency is not working on the bid defence. Or rather, it is not working on the defence for Abbey - Connect also works for the 180,000 member banking workers' union, Unifi, which is lobbying for a referral.

It is difficult to communicate directly to the OFT. It will also be difficult to communicate to the competition commission if the Lloyds TSB bid is referred. But the various lobbyists hope to shape the environment in which the decisions are made by raising the public and parliamentary profile of their respective cases.

Reading MP and chairman of the all-party banking group, Martin Salter, said: 'I've had them all in and was persuaded to sponsor an early day motion calling for a referral.'

The lobbyists' work is done. Gidon Freeman.



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