Credit unions’ hopes of offering a wider range of services have been dashed for the forseeable future. Proposals to treat credit unions in Northern Ireland equally with those in Great Britain have been dropped from the UK Government’s legislative programme.
The Reforming Financial Markets white paper published in July said that the Government was “minded to bring Northern Ireland credit unions within FSA [Financial Services Authority] regulation”. It was expected that the Financial Services Bill would implement this and the recommendations of an Assembly committee to enable credit unions here to offer additional financial services, such as bank accounts.
But the Bill is now progressing through Parliament and does not include the measures. A Treasury spokesman admitted the measures would not now be introduced prior to the General Election.
A spokeswoman for Northern Ireland’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment said that because the changes need several pieces of legislation to be approved by both Parliament and the Assembly it had been concluded by DETI and Treasury officials that “the current FSB was not a suitable legislative vehicle for such changes”.
She added that joint DETI and Treasury consultation on legislative changes was planned “to take place before the summer”. Enterprise minister Arlene Foster was, in addition, seeking a minister with her Treasury counterparts to discuss the prospects for legislation.
Tommy Jeffers, development worker at the Ulster Federation of Credit Unions, responded: “We are disappointed. In November officials had thought they would get it in before the change in government. Seemingly, it hasn’t happened.”
Mark Durkan MP, who chaired the Assembly’s committee into credit unions, said: “The Financial Services Bill is the obvious available opportunity to provide for the FSA to regulate credit unions here. Regulation by the FSA has been agreed universally in the Assembly and has been accepted by the Treasury. But the Treasury are refusing to legislate and showing no good reason.”
He added that he intended to meet Treasury ministers to discuss this and seek to amend the Bill in the House of Commons.