As a co-operator (a long time member of the Co-operative Party who believes in the co-operative model) I am a big supporter of credit unions.
A credit union is a ‘not for profit’ financial institution owned and controlled by its members, just like a mutual building society – with no traditional shareholders to pay. They have generous rates of interest for borrowers and traditionally pay a decent dividend to savers too. They are a great way to keep people out of the clutches of pay day lenders and loan sharks which is one of the main reasons I am so keen to support them.
I have spent quite a lot of time with Tees Credit Union, a community based organisation who work directly with local residents. I was very interested therefore to be contacted by the Police Credit Union which is an employment based organisation drawing its membership from the local force. I wanted to see and understand the differences between the two models and found it very useful. The Police Credit Union was set up by the police, for the whole of the police family – serving and retired police officers/police staff and members of their households. It now serves the wider law enforcement family and has 23000 members.
It is obviously much easier to recruit members for an employment based credit union as potential members are easy to identify and contact whereas community credit unions are hindered by their ability to market themselves and their services across the geographical areas they cover.
Carol Thorburn who kindly and ably hosted my visit explained that the majority of their members find the interest rates to be so good that they use the credit union to consolidate loans and credit card balances and thus considerably reduce their family outgoings. At a time when we are experiencing a cost of living crisis this is very welcome. I was also delighted to see in the PCU newsletter that both Barry Coppinger and Vera Baird, Police and Crime Commissioners for Cleveland and Northumbria respectively have become members of their respective branches of the Police Credit Union.
During the Labour Party’s policy making process I joined with the Co-op in calling for the establishment of an Armed Forces Credit Union and the more I heard about the work of the Police Credit Union the more I could see what a good idea this really is. I am delighted that the Party has agreed to take it forward.
The Cleveland branch is located on Yarm Road in Stockton in the old Electron House which was one of the campaign centres in the 1997 General Election for Dari Taylor, being owned then by the Electrician’s union. It is now in the hands of the Police Federation and while I was there I was introduced to the current officers and will be going back for a proper visit and to hear about their members’ concerns very soon.