Describing credit unions as a real success story, Lord Graham of Edmonton told the House of Lords: “Partnerships with credit unions are big business. Sixty per cent of credit unions work with schools; 60 per cent with employers; 57 per cent with housing associations; 50 per cent with citizens’ advice bureaux; 26 per cent with Jobcentre Plus and 12 per cent with prisons.”
And Lord Graham pointed out that, last year, the Department for Work and Pensions reported that those who used the services of a credit union paid £86 million less in a year than they would have done if they had borrowed from loan sharks, or small businesses that appear to be generous and fair but are not.
“In the context of the economy, £86 million is not a lot of money, but I am talking about little people,” said Lord Graham. “Credit unions are a success story, but they need to be encouraged and supported.
“I am not talking about large sums of money; I am talking about being loved and wanted and being part of the big picture.”
Added the peer: “Nothing has pleased me more in life than going into a boardroom or a committee meeting and coming across what I would call ordinary people — men and women who have no pretence to be accountants or experts — who have taken on the running of a business, such as one in the Co-operative Movement or a credit union . . . because their heart is in it. They are not in it to get big fees or to make a profit from selling shares, but because they know that their community needs it to keep going.”
Lord Graham said the Co-op Movement’s great ambition is to become mainstream in relation to the business community, but claimed that rules, regulations and legislation had inhibited the spread of co-operatives.
“The reputation of the banks, bankers and big institutions has taken a knock recently and people are examining the term ‘trust’ in relation to the banks,” he said.
“So this could be a golden opportunity for the expansion of people-oriented businesses. The amount of money required to establish a credit union is very small, but they do a big job and are now very successful businesses.”