4. asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, given that her Department has a proud record of relationships with the credit union movement, whether she shares my concern that, day and daily, we read about people being ripped off by loan sharks and online companies that charge outrageous rates of interest and whether she would consider re-engaging with the credit union movement to establish why, although millions of pounds are in savings, in the same townlands and parishes, these loan sharks are running riot through people’s pockets. (AQT 734/11-15)
I am more than happy to say that I have always recognised the role that the credit union plays in Northern Ireland. I say "in Northern Ireland" because the mainland does not have the same presence of credit unions. As he says, credit unions are recognised and have a good reputation, and, therefore, people trust them and want to invest in them. I am happy to speak to the Member outside of the House about what he has in mind for their promotion. I certainly share his concerns about loan sharks and companies that, on the face of it, look very warm and cuddly, but, when you look a bit further, are not cuddly at all.
I thank the Minister for her answer, which, as I expected, is very positive, and I encourage her to continue in that vein. The Minister referred to "the mainland", but we will not fall out about that. Is she aware that, "on the mainland", the Government appointed field officers to go out into the highways and byways to educate people about the advantages of credit unions and encourage their use? Would she consider a scheme similar to that here?
I thought that that was where the Member was going with this. The Member knows that Northern Ireland has a much more developed credit union system than the rest of the United Kingdom. That is why they have felt the need to appoint field officers and finance what is happening there. We do not see the need for that because we have at least two very strong federations. They make their voice heard, rightly so, and have done so throughout the whole credit union reform process, which, as the Member knows, is ongoing. Therefore, I do not think that there is a need for field officers as such, but I am happy to talk to him about other options that may fall somewhat short of that.