Tulip Siddiq MP Shadow Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Shadow City Minister) 10th November 2022 Blog Westminster Co-operative development Economy Share Tweet Britain has a long tradition of fostering the principles of co-operation and mutual support, and the histories of the co-operative movement and the Labour Party in this country are closely entwined. This relationship was institutionalised in 1927, when the Co-operative Party and the Labour Party entered an electoral agreement to stand joint candidates in elections. To this day, both parties continue to make the case for co-operatives, friendly and mutual societies, and as a long-standing Co-operative Party member I have always been proud to work with the Party to promote the co-operative businesses which are leading the way in improving equality and productivity at work. As Shadow City Minister, I have had the privilege of meeting many of the inspiring people working in co-operatives and mutuals, such as building societies and credit unions, in the UK’s financial services sector. These British businesses play such an important role in supporting working people across the country to access affordable finance and gain greater control over their lives. Building societies provide people with a low risk, member focused banking alternative, and research has shown that trust in building societies is consistently high. Building societies are also typically well capitalised, making the sector more resilient to financial shocks and better able to lend and plan for the long-term. While credit unions serve an extraordinary 1.9 million members and 2.1 million depositors across the UK. There is currently around £1.7 billion in loans to credit union members, providing a crucial lifeline to the most financially vulnerable in society and preventing people from turning to loan-sharks and high interest loans. With the right support, the co-operative sector has the potential to provide new ideas and the solutions to many of the crises and challenges we face as a country, such as the cost of living crisis or climate change. But despite the distinctly British character and history of mutually and co-operatively owned companies, and the important role they play in promoting financial responsibility and resilience among their members, the sector’s needs have too often been ignored by this Conservative Government. We have seen numerous building societies threatened with demutualisation in recent years, while the number of mutual credit unions has plummeted by more than 20% since 2016. Unlike the USA and many other European countries, the UK is also uniquely lacking in mutually or co-operatively owned regional banks, which could play a crucial in providing the affordable credit that small and medium sized businesses need to reach net zero. It has been ordinary families who have paid the price, with many forced into the arms of unethical lenders. This is only going to get worse as the Conservative’s cost-of-living crisis deepens. This is because credit unions, building societies and co-operative banks are working within an outdated regulatory regime – leaving them unable to compete on a level playing field with standard providers. It’s time to radically reform the rules governing the sector to give greater flexibility and allow mutuals and co-operative financial services to grow. The Financial Services and Markets Bill currently passing through the House of Commons does contain some welcome and long overdue provisions, such as enabling credit unions to offer a wider range of products. But the Treasury’s plans for the wider sector have lacked ambition. That’s why I have tabled amendments to the Bill which would require the regulators – the FCA and PRA – to have an explicit remit to report on how they’ve considered specific business models, including mutuals and co-operatives, to ensure they’re given parity of esteem with standard providers. If the Government is serious about supporting people to gain greater control of their personal finances, and supporting co-operatives to grow and reach their full potential, they should support my amendments. But so far, the Conservatives have rejected my attempts to engage with them on this important issue. The Labour Party and the co-operative movement share a commitment to building a society in which power and wealth are fairly shared. That is why the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party has agreed an important ambition for government – we will double the size of the co-operative and mutual sector in the UK. Only a Labour Government, made up of Labour and Co-operative Party MPs, can deliver on building the stronger, greener and fairer economy that Britain so desperately needs.