I was particularly pleased to speak in the debate on Credit Unions in the Scottish Parliament as a new deputy convener of that re-formed cross-party group and as a member of the Scottish Co-operative Party MSP group in the Parliament.
Credit unions are co-operatives, which means, of course, that they are owned by their membership. That is a very inclusive model, which is a significant and important point. Obviously, the main emphasis will always be on providing the best service for their members, and not on profit.
I was pleased to join members of Lanarkshire Credit Union celebrating their 25th-anniversary last week and I pleased to have tabled a motion on this in Scottish Parliament.
We all know about the importance of credit unions in Scotland. In difficult financial times, they help people not only to save for the future but when they are most in financial need.
In the course of the debate, I was pleased to hear my colleague Johann Lamont highlight the wee Glasgow loan initiative, which is run by Glasgow City Council along with Pollok Credit Union and BCD Credit Union, and which offers people low-cost loans so that they are not preyed on by lenders of payday loans. I hope that this kind of initiative can be supported across the country and that we can combat the scourge of payday lenders, both legal and illegal loan-sharks.
Credit unions are truly for everyone. Whether someone joins a credit union through their work or goes to their local credit union to get a loan, they are joining the 387,000 people who are already members in some way, shape or form. It is true that many people across Scotland are only a few pay days away from being in financial trouble, and being a member of a credit union can help people to prepare for the unexpected.
At the start of the year, I was delighted to visit the newly established outreach branch of the Lanarkshire Credit Union in Carluke. Lanarkshire Credit Union worked closely with the local community council to provide a service to local people, who did not necessarily know about credit unions. By setting up an outreach branch, the credit union has enabled local people to use its facilities without the having to deal with the geographical challenges of setting up a permanent office. The credit union has had the help of volunteers—we should recognise that that is often the case with credit unions. We need to be mindful of people in rural areas where there can be geographical difficulties.
This summer I was pleased to meet Alison Dowling from the Capital Credit Union, whose common bond area covers Midlothian and the Scottish Borders, which is in the region that both the minister and I represent. Alison Dowling told me that even though there was difficulty in setting up an outreach branch in the Borders—like the one in Carluke—people in the Borders could still be members of the credit union. Things such as online banking and payroll deduction have meant that it has become easier to join a credit union.
As we have heard, the theme of this year’s international credit union day is “the authentic difference”, which celebrates the positive impact that credit unions have on financial services and social change. I truly believe that they have a lot to celebrate.