When the Co-op Bank merged with the Britannia Building Society, based in Leek, Staffordshire, it was heralded as a super mutual and the two seemed a perfect fit. But many members and employees of the Britannia say they’ve done very badly out of the merger.
Health worker Stephanie Lawley, who lives in Nantwich, took all her family’s accounts away when the Britannia merged. Like many, she sees it more as a takeover, even though members voted to join the Co-op. What’s been lost, she said, is the family atmosphere.
“We used to get a really good bonus from the Britannia every year as a reward for our loyalty,” said Lawley. “This was to thank us for continuing to vote to stay mutual. Now, with the Co-op merger, we only get a Co-op dividend and it’s nowhere near as good.”
Another former Britannia member who preferred to remain anonymous said she and her family have definitely lost out. “I was very disgruntled by the merger,” she said. “It’s financially disadvantaged us. The piddling little Co-op divi is just a few pounds; we used to get several hundred in our members’ loyalty bonus.”
Lawley added that charitable donations have also dried up. “I run several charity events for children with disabilities,” she said. “Once you could go to the right person at the Britannia, ask for a donation, and they’d make a decision quickly and even attend the event.
“We never needed much – just, say, £1,500 for hire of the venue, equipment and transport. But because of the family atmosphere at the Britannia, you could always approach them. I’ve tried to get money from the Co-op but I just can’t. It’s nowhere near as friendly now as it used to be. We’re now with the Yorkshire Building Society.”
The Britannia was long Leek’s biggest and most prestigious employer, offering a career ladder in financial services. Now, former and current employees claim, all the best jobs have gone to the Co-op’s Manchester headquarters. Security and other roles have been outsourced and there has been a 25 per cent reduction in staff at Leek, with more redundancies expected.
The fear is that Leek staff will be kept on purely for low-level roles. This affects the whole town since local economies rise and fall with the number of well-paid professional jobs.
“I wouldn’t want to work there anymore,” said one former worker. “It’s just another big faceless corporation and the staff aren’t treated well. There’s a horrible atmosphere, which there never used to be. They say we voted for it. But I can’t find anyone who did.”
Among many critical letters to the Leek Post and Times was one from a Britannia employee awaiting redundancy. “We were subjected to many months of corporate brainwashing… Every week we hear of more colleagues losing their jobs and those of us still working there are expected to travel to Manchester, Skelmersdale or Stockport at the drop of a hat, with no regard for childcare issues or personal circumstances.”
A spokesman for the Co-op insisted that there was a commitment to Leek and said it was unlikely that loyalty bonuses would have been as high as they used to be because of the poor economic climate. He pointed out that Britannia members voted in favour of the merger three years ago.
“A small number of colleagues have been affected by the outsourcing of support services such as security,” said the spokesman. “This is completely in line with the wider policy we operate across our operations to ensure that these services are undertaken by those with specialist sector expertise in providing such services.
“As a Manchester-based business with other major centres in London, Plymouth, Skelmersdale and Stockport, it’s inevitable that from time to time roles will move from one location to another. But Leek is an important site to our business and is the centre of excellence for our mortgages and savings business.
“The merger provided an opportunity for two strong businesses to come together and create a mutual financial services organisation with the scale to offer consumers a compelling alternative in the market.
“This has been our focus throughout the integration and period since and is evidenced by customers now having around 250 more branches across the UK to do their banking at a time when many feel disillusioned with their current provider.”
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