Simon Read: Barclays shows its caring side to credit unions

Barclays has handed Britain's credit unions £1m and promised to provide space in branches and the help of expert staff to local communities and credit unions.

It is also giving credit unions free infrastructure access to Pingit, the bank's mobile payment service, so that they can operate mobile payments in their communities without needing to invest in technology.

The move is clearly designed to help reposition the much-criticised bank, which made a profit of £5.2bn last year as controversial bonuses to staff climbed 10 per cent to £2.4bn. But does that mean Barclays should come in for further criticism for a cynical move, or praise for actively doing something to make a positive difference?

Movement for Change, which has fought for access to fair credit through its Sharkstoppers campaign, welcomed Barclays' move. Georgie Laming from Sharkstoppers said: "This is great news for people across the UK who need fairer forms of credit to become more commonplace throughout the country.

"Other organisations can follow Barclays' example and show they are willing to act in support of fair credit. Credit unions can be a good alternative to both payday lenders and the big banks which are unwilling to lend small amounts of money to people in need."

The bank's £1m donation will be managed by Toynbee Hall, an East London charity that specialises in financial inclusion. Money will be handed to credit unions and Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs) to help them achieve sustainability.

Meanwhile the bank has promised to open up space within its 1,560 branches to provide dedicated community hubs to be used free by credit unions and other community groups.

It is also encouraging staff to volunteer, to share their expertise and knowledge to help improve the skills of the sector.

A spokesman rejected accusations that the move is geared to providing positive publicity for the bank. "We've been involved in supporting credit unions for 13 years," he said. "We've demonstrated a genuine commitment to the sector."

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the most high-profile supporter of credit unions. Last year he said: "We must help credit unions become bigger, better known and easier to access if we want them to compete effectively with high-interest lenders."

That raises the question: do Barclays and the church really have the same aim? (The answer, of course, is no!)

s.read@independent.co.uk

Twitter: @simonnread

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