Northern Rock has explored plans to take on the loan book of Bradford & Bingley, as the first British victim of the credit crunch, which was nationalised in February, looks to consolidate the business of the governmentowned banks.

Ron Sandler, Northern Rock’s chairman, said there had already been informal talks about the idea, following B&B’s nationalisation last month.

Sandler said there had been no subsequent discussion and he did not expect the issue to be “top of the agenda for some time”.

However, he added: 'It would not surprise me at some point if a closer look was taken at the method of managing loan books within government-owned banks.'

The news came as Northern Rock yesterday warned that the economic downturn meant its job repaying its £11.5bn government loan would be a lot harder and 'a return to profitability was still some years away'.

Financial Times, Daily Telegraph