To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, what steps he is taking to support the growth of the cooperative and mutual sector.
22 September 2021
In my role as Economic Secretary, I have been a champion of the mutuals sector. It is clear to me that mutuals bring something different to other forms of running a business, with their clear focus on delivering the services their members and communities need.
The Government has sought to improve the business environment for co-operatives and mutuals. The Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 helped cut through the legal complexity involved in running a co-operative, improving their competitiveness. The ability of co-operatives to raise £100,000 of withdrawable share capital per member, increased from £20,000 in 2014, has also ensured that co-operatives have the necessary flexibility to raise funding and compete more effectively with companies.
Furthermore, following the interest rate cap rise from 2% to 3% in 2014, credit unions have been able to expand into higher-risk markets and provide an important alternative to high-cost lenders. The prize-linked savings scheme, which was offered through credit unions, has also helped increase individuals’ financial resilience and raise awareness of credit unions. Building societies and credit unions have also played a key role in supporting consumers through the COVID-19 pandemic by keeping their branches open, which I thanked them for in a letter in April 2020.
Mutuals have benefitted from financial support provided by the Government to businesses during the pandemic, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Mutuals also benefitted from the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020, which provided significant flexibility for mutuals in holding their annual general meetings, as well as improved the insolvency regime for co-operatives. Credit unions have also benefited from the distribution of dormant asset funding by Fair4All Finance, including their £5m COVID resilience fund.
As we build back better from the pandemic, the Government is looking to support the growth of the mutuals sector. The Chancellor announced at Budget 2020 that the Government intends to bring forward changes to the Credit Unions Act to allow credit unions to offer a wider range of products and services. Officials have been engaging with credit unions to ensure changes meet the needs of members and credit unions. This measure will be brought forward when parliamentary time allows.
At Budget 2021, the Government also announced the £150m Community Ownership Fund. This will allow community groups to bid for up to £250,000 matched-funding to help them buy or take over local community assets at risk of being lost and run them as community-owned businesses, supporting co-operative entrepreneurship. First round bids are currently being assessed and funding decisions will be announced in due course.
I meet with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA) on a regular basis to discuss various matters. Officials also engage regularly with the FCA and PRA to discuss how best to support the growth and stability of the mutuals sector. However, the regulators are independent of Government and the Government cannot direct them to consider specific issues.