Credit Unions

Question Time — Scottish Executive — Finance and Sustainable Growth – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 14 June 2007.

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Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party 2:15, 14 June 2007

To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will support the work undertaken by credit unions to address financial exclusion. (S3O-259)

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

We are committed to continuing support for the credit union movement and to encouraging it to develop new and innovative services. Credit unions do invaluable work in addressing financial exclusion. Their traditional role is to promote saving and provide affordable credit to people who cannot access mainstream borrowing. However, many now offer an increasing range of services, such as current accounts, savings accounts, budgeting accounts, flexible credit, insurance, foreign currency at competitive rates and other relevant packages.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

As the good work that credit unions do spans the work of more than one Government department, will the minister please commit to working together with his ministerial colleagues and others to support vital anti-poverty projects such as debt redemption schemes? Will he ensure that service of general economic interest funds that have been allocated to organisations such as Livingston Credit Union for the financial year 2008-09 but which have not previously been guaranteed will be made available? That would enable an organisation such as Livingston Credit Union to continue for the third year running a debt redemption scheme and to deliver a huge increase of 100 per cent in the number of loans that are made available under the scheme.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

As I said, the Government is very supportive of credit unions' work and wants to ensure that that continues effectively. Decisions about the spending period beyond April 2008 have yet to be made and the Government will produce in due course its budget proposals in that respect. However, I make those comments against the backdrop of a sympathetic view of credit unions' work.

I assure Angela Constance that in the new and smaller Cabinet, it is easy to have conversations between colleagues and to agree on subjects for which the boundaries are not clear. I will work with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing on the issue that the member raises.

I was delighted to hear that Angela Constance has invited a founding member of Livingston Credit Union, Nancy MacGillivray, to be her nominated local hero at the parliamentary event on 30 June. I hope that Ms MacGillivray has an enjoyable day.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I am pleased to hear Mr Swinney's endorsement of the credit union movement. However, he will be aware, because I have written to him, of the increasing concerns of my local credit union, Cumnock and Doon Valley Credit Union, which does an excellent job of providing financial services, particularly in the aftermath of the Farepak situation. That credit union has expressed concern about the impact that the new Executive's policy of abolishing Communities Scotland will have on the funding and support that the credit union movement receives. Will the minister give me a guarantee that credit unions will continue to be fully funded and supported, and will he explain how that will be done if Communities Scotland no longer exists?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I have said clearly in two previous answers that the Government is enormously supportive of the credit union movement and acknowledges the important work that it does. I put on record the Government's appreciation for the work of Cumnock and Doon Valley Credit Union, which I am sure helps people, particularly those who in recent months have been involved in the acute Farepak situation.

The Government supports and has objectives for programmes that are intended to ensure that, through the delivery of policy, we make a difference in people's lives. We must move on from the debate about structures and focus on how we deliver programmes to individuals. That will underpin the Government's approach to the organisation of Government business among agencies, to ensure that we make a big impact on people's lives.

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour

Will the minister follow the lead of Westminster ministers and actively promote credit unions to those who are considering at this time how they should start their saving for Christmas, especially in the light of the Farepak disaster, which my colleague Cathy Jamieson mentioned? How does he think any such promotion might be carried out?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

There are a variety of ways in which the Government can offer support to credit unions, through the general advisory packages that we offer at local level to assist people in managing their finances. Many local authorities are involved in those schemes, which are supported by grant-aided expenditure that the Scottish Executive provides. There is an opportunity for constructive, positive collaboration between us and the Westminster Government in this area. I assure Mary Mulligan that my officials and I will work together closely to ensure that that is delivered in due course.