HBOS chiefs accused of dereliction of duty and failing to explore rival bids

DIRECTORS of HBOS have been accused of failing in their duties to shareholders by not looking seriously at alternatives to the Lloyds TSB takeover bid.

A cross-party group of MSPs yesterday launched a fresh attack on the deal and said they had written to the Takeover Panel, the independent regulatory body, to ask for the tie-up to be suspended until more information was garnered.

The Scotsman, which has been spearheading a drive for answers about the takeover, revealed last weekend that two other parties were considering a bid for the ailing Edinburgh bank.

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At a press conference at Holyrood yesterday, MSPs Tavish Scott, Alex Neil and Margo MacDonald claimed the potential rival bids were not being taken seriously.

Mr Neil, of the SNP, also said he was confident the identity of at least one rival bidder would be released this week.

Mr Scott, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: "The non-executive directors at HBOS must explore all the options on behalf of shareholders. I find it extraordinary that those non-executive directors haven't been in touch with any other parties to explore those options."

Mr Scott said he had met Jim Spowart, the Scots financier involved with the second bid, and Vince Cable, the Lib Dem Treasury spokesman. He said Mr Cable had undertaken to write to the Chancellor asking for assurances that all bids would be treated equally.

Mr Neil said HBOS should be talking to Mr Spowart about the rival bid: "The HBOS directors have a fiduciary duty to ensure they get the best deal for the shareholders. They have not explored any other options. That is dereliction of duty in our view."

However, Shane O'Riordain of HBOS, accused the politicians of "a very unhelpful intervention", adding: "HBOS is not a political plaything. This is a real and substantive company that is actively looking after the interests of all its shareholders, including in Scotland.

"Our board must be allowed to get on and do the right thing for our company. We are recommending the Lloyds TSB deal to our shareholders because it offers real financial benefits to our owners."

However, Mr Neil said he had "very, very serious concerns, not just about the merger but the way in which the merger is being arranged and organised".

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He criticised the "arrogant presumption being made by some people in Lloyds and HBOS that this is a done deal", adding: "They seem to forget the shareholders haven't yet – and I don't believe they will – approve this merger."

The independent MSP Margo MacDonald said information was "being withheld from shareholders".

She said she was concerned about the "undue pressure that's going to come on Edinburgh" and that "people here could lose everything".

Meanwhile, Gavin Gemmell, the chairman of Archangel Informal Investment, a network of private individuals who last year ploughed 14 million into new companies in central Scotland, said he shared the dismay at what had happened to RBS and HBOS, but added that it was time to move on and deal with the new reality.

Mr Gemmell said that Scots should not get misty-eyed about the loss of the Bank of Scotland, adding: "Both RBS and HBOS have not put much energy into small businesses over the last few years."

Meanwhile, the Scottish Labour leader, Iain Gray, said: "For over a month now, Alex Neil of the SNP has been going on about an alternative bid. It is time he said who they are and they came to the table.

"It is irresponsible to raise hopes if there is nothing concrete there."


The Scotsman revealed on Saturday that an overseas financial institution was looking at putting in a rival bid for HBOS. Operating through a London-based merchant banker, which has been in touch with leading businessman Jim Spowart, it has sought assurances from the Treasury that it will be treated equally to Lloyds. A third potential bid also emerged over the weekend. Alex Neil, SNP MSP, said it was a "big big global player". But a Lloyds TSB spokesman said yesterday it had not seen any concrete detail.

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"We are absolutely focused on the deal on the table," he said.

Sturgeon: UK ministers' reaction to downturn too slow

Hamish Macdonell

UK MINISTERS have failed to act quickly enough or widely enough to help boost the economy, Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, claimed yesterday.

Ms Sturgeon said that while Holyrood ministers would do what they could to help the economy, Westminster was being slow and secretive about what it was doing. She said: "I would certainly hope that they would do much more in the future than they have done to date."

Last month Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, vowed the Treasury will use public spending to fend off the worst of the downturn. He said then: "This is a time when you have to support the economy. You will see us switching our spending priorities to areas which make a difference."

However, Ms Sturgeon said that the Scottish Government did not as yet have any details of what action was planned.

She said: "We don't as a government yet have any detail from the UK government of what their plans in that regard are, or what the value of those plans might be."

But she continued: "I certainly would hope that those plans are substantial. I don't think there is any doubt we need to see considerable reflationary activity by the UK government.

"I think we've heard signals from the UK government over the past couple of weeks that they agree with that, although the devil is in the detail and we await the detail.

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"I certainly would very much hope that whatever spending plans flow from that, Scotland gets its fair share."

Ms Sturgeon also outlined to members of Holyrood's Local Government and Communities Committee what measures the SNP administration had taken to help the economy, including plans to accelerate up to 100 million of cash for affordable housing.

She explained she envisaged the bulk of that cash would be used to support the building of new homes, arguing this would not only help provide housing but would also assist the struggling construction sector.

The government has already announced how 9 million of the accelerated cash will be spent, with 4 million being used to bring forward work on sites, and 5 million being used to help purchase land for affordable-housing developments.

Ms Sturgeon added: "We've identified a further 8 million, which we've not announced yet due to some commercial sensitivities, because some of that will support off-the-shelf purchases of existing stock."

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