At the Scottish Labour Conference last weekend in Dundee we held a very successful fringe meeting titled, 'The People’s Money'.

The speakers were Scottish Co-operative Party MSP Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Co-operative MP Ged Killen and Mary Alexander the Deputy Scottish Secretary of Unite the Union, the event was chaired by Claudia Beamish MSP.

Claudia Beamish opened the meeting speaking about here role as the Co-Convener of the Cross Party Group on Credit Unions in the Scottish Parliament and the work that the Scottish Co-operative Party Group of MSPs are doing to promote credit unions.

Kezia Dugdale outlined the work which she had done around her Debtbusters campaign and subsequent work which she has done promoting credit unions and community banks. Kezia highlighted the need for these co-operative alternatives to be able to compete with other financial institutions in terms of access to the latest technology. Kezia suggested that banks could show their commitment to the community by sharing technology with credit unions. We should also look at giving planning preference to credit unions and looking at local councils giving rent and rates relief to get ethical financial co-operatives on our high streets.

Ged Killen spoke about the work he has done on access to free cash machines. He highlighted the issues in his local community brought about by the closure of bank branches and the fact that many cash machines are now charging. He spoke about his attempts to change the law at Westminster to make access to cash machines free. He pointed out that whilst we may well be moving towards a cash-free society we are not there yet and there is a need for access to cash and that charging disproportionately hits those on lower incomes who are trying to budget and take out smaller sums of cash at a time.

Deputy Scottish Secretary of Unite the Union, Mary Alexander spoke about the impact of bank branch closures on communities, on high streets and on other local businesses. She also spoke about the impact on the bank workforce. As other speakers had done she spoke about the absurdity of banks which are often part owned by the government not listening to local people and closing branches in the face of opposition from local people. Is there any other sector of the economy where a company would ignore the views of its major shareholder?

There was a lively question and answer session. The fringe meeting was clear that there is still work to do to promote credit union and community banks, to promote free to use cash machines and encourage our banks to listen to the consumer and the public and maintain a presence on the high street so that financial institutions serve people and their communities.