Through following the excellent Guardian columnist David Conn I recently noticed the following tweet:
It was a sad day when Newcastle United announced Wonga.com as its sponsor in 2012. Even more depressing was its inevitability. With the number of professional football clubs entering into sponsorship deals with online gambling companies reaching a saturation point and the financial services products offered by clubs themselves being described as “an own goal” and the subject of a government inquiry, it was only a matter of time until a club jumped into bed with the most wretched of extractive and callous financial services providers: the payday lender. That Newcastle United struck a deal with Wonga was sensible inasmuch as it is the daddy of payday lenders. But the deal attracted critical column inches by the volume, including this article by Conn himself; even for a club as used to ridicule as Newcastle United it seemed a spectacular own goal. With the English north east comprising some of the UK’s most deprived communities it served to make professional football seem even more out of touch with and remote from the communities it purports to serve.
It is therefore reassuring to see that in the absence of any ethical u-turn by the club it is the independent supporters trust that is providing a moral lead by establishing its own credit union initiative that has received impressive political backing and with a club as well-supported as Newcastle United offers credit unions in the north east the potential for establishing a critical mass of members that taps into the allegiance and partizanship of football fans.
Glasgow for many years was the only part of the UK where credit union membership came close to emulating that in the Republic of Ireland; as such it was the beacon of hope and the benchmark for the credit union movement across the UK. It was also held up as an example of how ethical lending and borrowing could be made available to people on low incomes, with poor or no credit ratings and be accessible at the neighbourhood level. However, another less-publicised implication of having a critical mass of members, and crucially, savings was that credit unions in Glasgow were able to offer social loans to and investment in the sort of community development activity that helps sustain communities and address inequality that blights too many of them. In this way the Glasgow credit union movement was cited in the excellent 2005 Review of Overindebtedness (mentioned in previous blogs of mine) conducted by Welsh Assembly Member Huw Lewis as a role model for credit unions in Wales, albeit over the long-term, in making social and ethical finance available to Welsh communities. In turn it would reduce the reliance on public sector finance for community development activities and propagate greater independence from government for the community development sector as a whole. In Wales, this remains some way off.
In Newcastle at least it is to be hoped that the new Newcastle United Supporters Trust credit union initiative can go some way to repairing the damage caused by the likes of Wonga and other payday lenders that extract so much money from less affluent communities. Wouldn’t it be nice to see junior Newcastle shirts sporting a logo related to this initiative given there will be space from the 2016-17 season with Wonga logos being removed?