Social justice minister Jackie Baillie has invited all 138 credit unions in Scotland to apply for the one-off grants under the credit union Kickstart Fund which will help them improve and expand their low-coast loan and savings service to the public.
The Action Plan's objectives are:
* To develop sustainable credit unions
* To increase membership across Scotland, currently 120,000
* To increase the numbers and skills of volunteers
* To bring about a change in public attitudes
* To assist all credit unions to meet the new financial services authority regulatory framework
The£4,000 grants - open to all credit unions in Scotland on a non-competitive basis - will allow credit unions to invest in a wide range of short-term projects so long as they will lead to significant improvements and sustainable change in the way the credit unions work.
Possible projects include investment in IT systems; training of staff or volunteers; membership recruitment campaigns; development of business plans and refurbishment of premises. The cash cannot be used to add to credit unions' loan funds.
The bids will be assessed by the newly-formed Scottish Credit Union Partnership (SCUP), which has been established under the Credit Union Action Plan to:
* oversee the Action Plan's implementation
* establish a baseline for progress towards targets
* monitor implementation of the Action Plan
* promote movement-wide the good practice of successful Scottish Credit Unions
In particular, SCUP has responsibility for:
* promoting and market Credit Unions at local and national level
* drawing up a 'health check' template to ensure Credit Unions are FSA compliant
* developing a Scotland-wide credit union volunteer initiative to promote volunteering in credit unions - including a specific rural volunteering initiative
Ms Baillie said: 'The Kickstart Fund grants will provide Credit Unions with a cash injection to help them in their efforts to become more effective and efficient.
'Credit unions are run for and by local people, offering affordable savings and loans tailored to members' incomes.
'Scotland has some strikingly successful credit unions but only 1% of the population are members.
'Far too many people in hard-pressed communities cannot access the financial services which others take for granted. But we also want membership to grow from all income groups and change the public perception of a credit union as a 'poor man's bank' because we know credit unions work. For this reason I was delighted to see credit union services extended to the Parliament and Executive in May.
'Credit unions make a tremendous contribution towards ending social exclusion in communities across Scotland and they are all about people helping themselves out of poverty - something the government and the Scottish executive are working to end.'
1. A number of key targets to be delivered by 2005 form part of the Action Plan. These targets include increasing credit union membership to over five per cent of the population and doubling the number of staff and volunteers involved.
2. 'Unlocking the Potential - An Action Plan for the Credit Union Movement in Scotland is available here.
A summary is also available.
3. The Scottish Credit Union Partnership (SCUP) members are:
Tom Kelly, Johnstone Credit Union (Chair)
Rose Dorman, Dalmuir Credit Union
Marie Coyle, Kilmarnock Credit Union
George Redmond, Bridgeton Calton Dalmarnock Credit Union
Marlene Shiels, Capital Credit Union (covers Lothians)
Sheila Houston, Lochaber Credit Union and Argyll and Bute Credit Union Development Agency
Tom McVay, Credit Union Enterprise Services
Eunice Lancaster, Strathclyde Credit Union Development Agency /Community Enterprise in Strathclyde
Lucy McTernan, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations
John Mark McCafferty, Scottish Homes/New Executive Agency/Housing Associations
Chris Higgins, Highlands and Islands Enterprise
Jon Harris, Cosla
Ian McCormack, Association of British Credit Unions Ltd
Ronnie Hobley, Association British Credit Unions Ltd
John Patton, Scottish League of Credit Unions
Stephen Walsh, Scottish League of Credit Unions
4. Capital credit union's services were extended to those working at the executive and parliament, including MSPs, in May 2001. A number of ministers and MSPs have already taken out membership - including Ms Baillie.