Pensions minister visits 'important' Pennine Community Credit Union

Andrew Stephenson MP, Debbie Maher, Roberta Proctor, both of PCCU, Guy Opperman MP and Debbie Smith-Hands, also of PCCU.
Andrew Stephenson MP, Debbie Maher, Roberta Proctor, both of PCCU, Guy Opperman MP and Debbie Smith-Hands, also of PCCU.
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Pennine Community Credit Union welcomed pensions minister Guy Opperman for a tour around its Nelson branch.

The visit gave Mr Opperman a chance to talk with staff at the not-for-profit co-operative and see first hand the hard work that goes into serving the community.

Mr Opperman is well versed in ethical finance having helped to create Tynedale Community Bank, another not-for-profit bank in Northumberland which also allows people to save and borrow money, with interest at a much lower rate than many other lenders.

“There’s a cohort of society that needs looking after, where better to do that than a Credit Union,” he said.

As part of his role at the Department for Work and Pensions, Mr Opperman takes a lead on combating financial exclusion.

His experience at Tynedale has identified the important role both credit unions and community banks have in giving people access to banking services, including loans to people who might otherwise not be able to access them.

“I know first-hand that improving financial inclusion is key to helping some of the poorest and most marginalised in society,” said Mr Opperman, who was joined on the tour by Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson.

Chief operating officer Deborah Smith-Hands and board member Mark Hirst discussed the new town centre branch the credit union is opening in St James’ Street, Burnley, which will open their services up to more people in the community.

Mr Opperman has regularly commented on need for community led finance whilst the high street banks are leaving town centres across the country .

“People are fed up with banks disconnected from the local area,”he said.

Both Mr Opperman and Mr Stephenson were interested to hear about the work Pennine have been doing with social enterprise SPE Furnishings in Burnley to offer an ethical alternative to the rent-to-own companies who charge high rates of interest on furniture and electricals.

“The recent change in legislation has put a huge dent in the likes of Wonga and Brighthouse and I hope this brings more clients to Credit Unions.”

PCCU staff recently attended an event at the Palace of Westminster where Mr Opperman joined leading figures from the banking world and MPs from across the political spectrum to pledge their support for the credit union movement in UK.