Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies (Environmentally Sustainable Investment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:21 pm on 11th September 2020.

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Photo of Nicola Richards Nicola Richards Conservative, West Bromwich East 1:21 pm, 11th September 2020

I echo the comments of my hon. Friend Angela Richardson. Within my own constituency we of course have the headquarters of West Bromwich Building Society, which was originally called the Co-operative Steelworkers’ Society of West Bromwich. It was founded on St George’s day in 1849 by 20 local citizens who appealed for people to

“avail themselves of the advantages of the society, and thereby become their own landlords.”

I must declare an interest: since I was a child, I have held a savings account with the society in its modern form.

The founding members first met at the former Paradise Street Methodist chapel. It was one of the earliest societies of its like to be set up. It comes as no surprise to me at all that the people of West Bromwich East, just like the wider black country, have a history of being innovators and respecting hard work, thrift and, of course, independence. The society aimed

“to enable its members to acquire property by the fruits of their own honest industry and frugality from a common fund raised by members’
contributions paid fortnightly”,

together with a facility to provide the

“safe deposit of money in large or small sums as either temporary or permanent investments.”

Throughout the years, the West Bromwich continued to grow during stronger economic times and the need for housing in the Black Country. I think it impressive that in 1881, while there were only 946 building societies in the whole of England and Wales, with an average membership of 330 and receipts of just over £17,000, the West Bromwich had more than 2,500 members and an income of more than £60,000.

In 1923, former Conservative Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain brought in the Housing Act 1923, paying the private sector to build, build, build. This meant that because West Bromwich as a town did not suffer as much unemployment as neighbouring areas during the depression, building societies such as the West Bromwich were well supported.

The West Bromwich has moved around a few times since its inception, and moved to the new purpose-built headquarters at Providence Place in 2016, which I had the great pleasure of visiting just a few weeks back. Its headquarters are a little less busy than they would usually be, but it was great to meet chief executive Jonathan Westhoff and hear about the West Bromwich’s focus, which remains that of a traditional building society—providing a safe home for savers’ money, allowing people to buy their own homes. As the West Bromwich is a mutual, these principles have shaped the society since it was first formed. The driving force behind any decision making and direction since 1849 for the West Brom has been to look after the interests of its members. The West Brom has done so much to give back to our local community through its community grant scheme and tireless funding.

Finally, moving on to the Bill, perhaps a point of debate should be whether the Mutuals’ Deferred Shares Act 2015 already gives co-operatives the means to issue redeemable shares, and so perhaps the Bill is not necessary in its current form. I thank the hon. Member for Cardiff North for bringing the Bill to the House today.