N&P is set to close 10 branches

Adam Aiken, deputy business editorNorwich and Peterborough Building Society has pledged to maintain as many jobs as possible following the announcement that it would close 10 branches around the region.Adam Aiken, deputy business editor

Norwich and Peterborough Building Society has pledged to maintain as many jobs as possible following the announcement that it would close 10 branches around the region.

The society was quick to point out that the decision had been made in a bid to cut branch overheads rather than slim its workforce.

The news was given to staff yesterday, and customers will start receiving letters informing them of the developments tomorrow.

Most of the affected branches are on the fringes of the N&P's east of England heartland. The only Norfolk branch to go is the one in Unthank Road, Norwich, and the Halesworth branch is the only casualty in Suffolk.

The other branches are in Ashby, Bedford, Chelmsford, Clacton, Colchester, Immingham, Kettering and Spilsby. All 10 will close in March. A total of 52 staff are being consulted over the changes, with a spokesman saying the aim was to keep as many of them as possible.

N&P chief executive Matthew Bullock has been fiercely critical of the way in which the banks have had billions of pounds poured into them to keep them afloat while the mutual sector has been left to fend for itself despite, with a few exceptions, having avoided the excesses that brought the banks to their knees.

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In particular, state support for the banks has allowed them to offer market-leading rates, leaving building societies to make the difficult choice about whether to remain competitive and cut their margins yet further or risk losing significant market share.

'We are so sad that the dismal state of the financial markets since the collapse and rescue of the banks has brought us to this,' he said.

'We have not purchased loan books or offered self-certificated loans. We originate and underwrite all of our own lending. Our position amongst all UK banks and building societies remains stable, but our staff, these branches and the members that they serve are sorry casualties of others' cavalier behaviour.'

An N&P spokesman said it was 'unfortunate' that the news came on the day the Chelsea and Yorkshire building societies confirmed they were in advanced talks about a merger (see panel). Analysts have been predicting for some time that the Chelsea's problems meant it needed rescuing. The N&P, on the other hand, has remained profitable.

'We will retain our independence, and we see this move as being the last significant thing that we'll need to do in order to reduce our costs and get through what lies ahead,' the spokesman said.

The society said both the Unthank Road branch and the one in Halesworth need 'substantial investment to bring them up to standard and both have alternative branches reasonably nearby'.

The N&P currently employs 841 people, with about 400 of them based at its Peterborough HQ and the remainder across its 56 branches. It has about 500,000 customers.

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