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Written Statement - Credit Unions

Jeff Cuthbert, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty

The Welsh Government has a proud record of support for Credit Unions and has, for a number of years, invested significant sums of money in the sector to support our most financially excluded members of society. Credit Unions feature strongly in our Tackling Poverty Action Plan and form part of our response to mitigating the impact of the Welfare Reform agenda.  

I am providing this Written Statement to set out Welsh Government’s continued support for the sector, following the additional £1.9m of funding that has been put in place from 1st April 2014, which will extend the Credit Union Project until March 2017. This new funding builds on the previous support given which has helped to build the foundations for an ongoing supportive relationship between Welsh Government and Credit Unions in order to help our most financially excluded members of society.  

The funding now in place for the next three years comes after the financial boost of £1.2m I approved in the last financial year to support growth and capacity of Welsh Credit Unions and will build on the good work carried out so far. This has enabled Credit Unions to undertake a variety of projects, local and national, aimed at attracting new members, making business improvements and promoting their services through a national marketing campaign.

I’m delighted that this national marketing drive is now underway, launching on 14th April with the airing of the TV advert that day and running until June. This campaign is promoting Credit Unions as widely as possible, using various media including TV, radio, social media and newspapers. This work at a national level, which is being supported by local complementary marketing tailored to local credit unions, will also target middle income earners. Our interest in Credit Unions is essentially because of our desire to support the financially excluded, but we recognise that we have to help 
build the involvement of the more affluent if Credit Unions are to thrive. Not only attracting new members for Credit Unions, the marketing now underway is, crucially, also providing Credit Unions with a national brand and uniting them through a Credit Unions Wales website.

Alongside the business improvements made possible with the £1.2m collaboration funding, one of the things I was both reassured and pleased to see has been the recent collaboration demonstrated by all those Credit Unions involved in delivering national projects that will benefit the whole sector. This support and encouragement given to each other has been really positive and welcome and I’m sure has been crucial for the successful delivery of six major projects. This is most clearly demonstrated by the challenge taken by North Wales Credit Union to deliver a national marketing campaign on behalf of all Credit Unions in Wales. Successfully supported by a steering group of Credit Unions that included Merthyr, Bridgend and Gateway, North Wales Credit Union has achieved this mammoth task in a tight timescale. This joint working will need to be built on in future work with Credit Unions.

Moving forward, we want a sustainable Welsh Credit Union movement with clear social aims supporting our most financially excluded people, and a robust financial base that is supportive of each other. To attain this we must do all we can to help Credit Unions to continue to grow, so that more people can benefit from accessing their services and have the option of saving and obtaining loans at a fairer interest rate. Our focus must be to have a stronger movement that is more responsive and accessible to the needs of individuals. There are major challenges to be faced in pursuit of this goal. Increasing the membership of Welsh Credit Unions is important to ensure sustainable financial base. In order for them to work with their financially excluded members, Credit Unions also need to attract customers who are sufficiently financially secure.

The Welsh Government cannot indefinitely provide financial support to the Credit Union movement. The £1.9m funding I have recently announced will be tapered over the next three years. I hope that this tapered funding for Credit Unions will help them focus their efforts in order to become sustainable and provide the most appropriate services.  That is in their interests and of course their members’ interests. I recognise that in pursuit of sustainability, it may be that there are voluntary mergers between Credit Unions. Ultimately therefore, we may see a smaller number of larger Credit Unions that emerge over the coming years. The Welsh Government is supportive of mergers when they are in the interests of the Credit Unions and their members.  

In addressing the challenges ahead, I’m clear that strong leadership and continued joint working is necessary, indeed essential, for the Credit Union movement’s future. Welsh Government wishes to work with the sector collectively to develop a strategic approach and collective sense of purpose which helps to tackle poverty in Wales.

The marketing drive, supported under the collaborative bid, has also considered the relationship Credit Unions have with the public sector given the huge potential and mutual benefits that would come from supporting public sector employees. A number are already working in this area, recognising that this is important to their longer term sustainability. I want to see these relationships built further with a focus on public sector membership, payroll deduction programmes and ethical loans to public sector employees. I have secured commitment from my cabinet colleagues to market Credit Unions to the public service workforce and to facilitate payroll deductions. This has the potential to provide significant numbers of new members with sufficient financial security to underpin the financial base of credit unions.  There is more work to be done here, and we are now considering what comes out of the initial work developed by the campaign and how to actively take this forward.

I consider that one of the most effective ways of Welsh Government providing ongoing collaborative leadership is through the establishment of a Ministerial Advisory Group, with key figures from the movement and representation from other key sector wanting to work alongside Credit Unions. Work is now underway to set up this Group and my plan is that it will meet for the first time later this year.

Ahead of this, a Welsh Credit Union conference will be arranged for this summer, building on the joint working we’ve seen through the collaboration funding. This will give us time to reflect on the support already provided by Welsh Government and to look forward at what is needed from this point onwards. The conference will provide an excellent platform for shaping the future.