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Concern over ‘Rock’ help is taken to EC

Leading figures in the finance sector have expressed concern that nationalised Northern Rock must not take advantage of its taxpayer-backed status.

The British Bankers’ Association (BBA), led by chief executive Angela Knight, met the Treasury last month to discuss fairness and competition.

Others to express concern include Adrian Coles, director-general of the Building Societies Association (BSA).

The Government has until March 17 to submit a proposal to the European Commission so it can judge whether nationalising the bank is within rules restricting state aid to companies.

Key figures in the market are seeking assurances that the bank will comply with these rules. Mike Whytock, acting managing director of Black Horse Motor Finance, thought the status of Northern Rock situation would have little direct impact on his company.

“Northern Rock concentrates on mortgages and savings, and these do not compete directly with any of our product offerings,” said Whytock.

“As far as rates are concerned, I think any nervousness will be more directly related to the global credit crunch, rather than to Northern Rock.

“There is a possibility that the nationalisation may, through market forces, have an effect on inter-bank funding rates, but that would impact all lenders equally, and not just us.

“What’s certain is that people will always have a desire to buy a car, and it’s our job to make sure they do so, while taking advantage of dealers’ finance.”

The Government turned down an offer to take over Northern Rock by Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson, who now seems determined to shake up the sector. “I will turn Virgin Money into a formidable financial services businesses,” he said.

The strength of the Virgin brand means specialist motor finance companies and dealers could face renewed competition to point-of-sale showroom lending.

Dealers will this month find manufacturers’ 0% finance deals driving showroom traffic but the deals can produce little or no profit for retailers.

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