Jeff Cuthbert, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
I am providing this Written Statement to advise Members that I have approved £1,222,688 to help boost the growth of Welsh Credit Unions this year. This funding will assist 16 Credit Unions to attract new members and will support a number of new projects which Credit Unions have themselves identified to boost sustainability.
Credit Unions are a key part of our Tackling Poverty agenda. In addressing this agenda, I am keen to see people supported as much as possible to manage their household budgets and plan for the future. With the Christmas period having been and gone, this time of year makes it especially difficult for families who are having to tighten their belts. Credit Unions, as not -for-profit organisations, have a key role in helping hard pressed families to get to grips with their finances.
Credit Unions provide access to affordable borrowing and can be especially suitable for people who have had credit issues in the past and find themselves unable to borrow from the mainstream lenders. They directly support the Welsh Government’s efforts to tackle poverty. In recognition of this, the Welsh Government has been funding the movement to develop into a financially viable and sustainable network since 2010, through our Access to Financial Products through Credit Unions Project.
I want a financially resilient Credit Union movement in Wales that works together in a collaborative and effective way and in partnership with the Welsh Government to continue supporting the tackling poverty agenda. I want to see Credit Unions offering a range of services that, as well as attracting middle income earners, assist those on low incomes and in need of financial help and guidance. For example, I want to see Credit Unions in Wales working towards providing a range of services such as accessible loans (particularly for financially excluded individuals), encouraging savings and providing a universal offer of budgeting accounts aimed at helping people cope with new housing benefits arrangements.
I was therefore pleased to approve this award of additional money. The funding will support 19 projects to be undertaken by Credit Unions, to help boost their growth and sustainability. These projects have been identified by Credit Unions as ones that will support them in achieving sustainability. The projects range from a marketing campaign to boost membership; securing improvements to back office technologies to improve efficiencies; piloting a project working with prisoners and also developing new products for customers.
This significant award is a clear indication that Welsh Government is prepared to invest resources to help Credit Unions continue to work with our most vulnerable. I have also received an assurance from the Credit Unions that they are willing to work with Welsh Government to continue to address this agenda and support those who are financially excluded. There is a lot of hard work to be done now to get the projects delivered and so continued collaboration amongst all Credit Unions and Trade Associations is needed.
This financial boost will help Credit Unions to accelerate their growth and reach within communities, aiding their long term sustainability. We know that Credit Unions have significant potential to help tackle poverty. . With sustainability in mind 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.
I want to help Credit Unions to do this. Whilst the current Welsh Government funding given to Credit Unions has resulted in a significant increase in membership, to approximately 73,000 members, I would like the number of people using credit unions to increase to coverage of 6% of the population by 2020.
This is an ambitious target and so during December I called on the support of my Ministerial colleagues asking that they promote the use of Credit Unions to the Public Sector. Credit Unions are there for everybody and I have asked Ministers to promote this message. Credit Unions provide an excellent way to save and borrow and it would be mutually beneficial if their use were encouraged to employees across the public sector. My discussions in November with the Archbishop of Wales also highlighted that Credit Unions are an excellent option for everyone. We’ve agreed that we would work together to continue to promote the message to all sectors of our communities.
Many people are facing tough times and, worryingly, the rise of payday lenders continues. There is a real need for people to be helped to manage their money in a better way in the hope they never have to turn to such companies. Whilst Credit Unions are not the sole answer to payday lenders, they are integral to people managing their finances by accessing cheaper and fairer credit terms.
With the award of £1,222,688 which will support twelve local projects and seven major projects, I have signalled my intent to work with Credit Unions to address the financial inclusion and tackling poverty agendas. To do this Credit Unions will need to be more sustainable and I am hopeful that the projects underway this New Year will put them on the road to achieving this.