Credit union in funding crisis after pulling out of merger

Jim Hewitt

Jim Hewitt

First published in News The Oxford Times: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Blackbird Leys and Greater Leys. Call me on 01865 425403

THE Blackbird Leys Credit Union is facing a last-minute race for funding after pulling out of a merger with its rival.

The union was set to join up with the Oxford Credit Union in March, but changed its mind at the last minute.

Normally, the Blackbird Leys Credit Union applies to the Annual Open Bidding Programme for funding, but it held off last year.

However, after deciding not to join forces with the Oxford Credit Union, the Blackbird Leys group has found itself struggling without its usual funding.

Over the next two years it estimates it will need £30,000 for re-organisation and day-to-day costs. Treasurer Jim Hewitt said the decision not to merge was made to ensure Blackbird Leys continued to provide face-to-face support. He said: “Over the past two years a lot of our planning and effort has gone into that merger.

“However, it became clear that Oxford Credit Union was looking at taking it on quite a new course.

“They were starting to think it was not a good idea to continue running an office and cash register, that they should go online and telephone. It means that they no longer have a face-to-face service.

“It was very clear we weren’t going to fit in any more. We really couldn’t go ahead. We had to pull out in February.”

The Blackbird Leys Credit Union, which has 500 members, was set up more than 20 years ago so people on the estate could save money and obtain loans.

Mr Hewitt received an MBE in 2012 for his work.

He said that since Oxford Credit Union went online and phone-only, people from other areas in the city had tried to join Blackbird Leys.

But it is now facing financial trouble due to the lack of Annual Open Bidding Programme cash.

Mr Hewitt, 70, said: “The problem was that there was a deadline for applying for Oxford City Council funding – in November, when we thought we were going to be part of the Oxford Credit Union. When we pulled out it was far too late for us to apply for funding as a separate credit union.”

It has now applied for a separate pot of social inclusion funding, which has a maximum payout of £7,000, and is now waiting for the results.

Mr Hewitt said: “We need something substantial, or we’re in dire straits, the funding is almost entirely for staff.

“We have three part-time staff and 10 volunteers, but we can’t run on volunteers alone.

“If the council can see we’re still doing a good service here and give us the funding to continue then we’re fine, but if not we’re going to be eating into our reserves.

“Those are reserves we’ve built up over 10 years of hard work and once they get too low the Financial Conduct Authority will close us down.”

Oxford City Council spokesman Chofamba Sithole said: “We received Blackbird Leys Credit Union’s application and all applicants can expect to receive their decisions in the next few days.”

 

THE FACTS

CREDIT unions are financial co-operatives owned by their members which provide credit at competitive rates. The Blackbird Leys Credit Union has about 500 members and began in 1994. It holds savings of about £160,000. It is based at the Blackbird Leys Community Centre. 
Oxford Credit Union was set up in 2005 and has more than 1,000 members. 

 

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