The new chief executive of the West Bromwich Building Society has pledged that the group will remain and independent mutual – as more than 100 employees face compulsory redundancy.
Robert Sharpe said that compulsory job losses were inevitable following a decision to axe 152 positions at its head office operations in West Bromwichand Dudley.
But Mr Sharpe vehemently countered suggestions that the society was being slimmed down for a potential takeover as the economic downturn continues to wreak havoc in global money markets.
And he warned that the UK faced a “horrible” 2009 as the worst recession since the early 1990s begins to bite deeper.
In the latest hammer blow to the West Midlands economy the West Brom is cutting back on mortgage-processors and other head office employees following a slump in home loan lending.
Mr Sharpe said: “The West Bromwich Building Society is safe, secure and extremely well capitalised. What we are doing is ensuring that we continue with the basics correctly and that we have the right cost levels to do that.
“If I thought that it was going to be a short-term or even medium-term issue, then we just weather the storm.
“But this credit crunch has been going on for the best part of a year and if anything the financial markets are more stagnant now than they were then.
“The board does not see any recovery in the housing market for the foreseeable future. There is a lack of supply and a lack of demand.
“People are not buying houses and mortgage companies do not have the funds out of which they can lend. It is Catch 22.
“This is all about prudence, and it is about ensuring that we have the right cost base commensurate with the levels of business that we will be writing over the next two years.”
Mr Sharpe, who joined the society in October after previous chief executive Stephen Karle resigned unexpectedly, said that the West Brom faced a drop in gross lending levels from just under £3 billion in 2007 to an estimated half-a-billion pounds next year.
But he reaffirmed the Black Country society’s future as a strong independent mutual.
“I can categorically deny that we are in any talks with anyone, we are not intending on entering into any talks with anyone and we are all working very hard to position the West Bromto come out of the current credit crisis leaner, meaner and stronger.
“We have been through a voluntary redundancy scheme and we have only got 24 people out of that and unfortunately out of the people we have spoken to today all of their jobs are at risk of going unless we can find other roles for them.”
The society currently has around 21 vacancies which employees facing compulsory redundancy will be able to apply for.
“I think that 2009 is going to be horrible in terms of the recession, unemployment and lack of consumer spending confidence.
“But when we get through it, the West Bromwill be fitter and stronger.”