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You won't get me..I'm part of the union; MESSAGE TO LOAN SHARKS... It began life with just pounds 8, but 25 years on the STCU is a model of lending.

Byline: By Keith McLeod

IN 1981, when it started, it had just eight members and a modest capital value of only pounds 8.

But now - 25 years on - the pioneering Scottish Transport Credit Union (STCU) is celebrating its Silver Jubilee with pounds 7million in savings accounts and pounds 7million out on loan to its 9000 members.

In that time it has loaned out an incredible pounds 60million.

And it has become a model for the burgeoning army of credit unions which have sprung up throughout Scotland. Three per cent of the population are now involved in the 300 branches.

One of the founder members, John Mackin - who is still at the helm today - has seen the transformation of the STCU union from its launch into a remarkable working class success story.

The credit union has grown from its humble beginnings set up for transport workers in and around Glasgow as the "Strathclyde PTE Savings & Credit Union Ltd" to help bus workers fund their 'holiday money'.

Now it has 9000 members, pounds 1.95million in capital and pounds 2million in liquidity.

These days providing loans for members to go on holiday is just the tip of the iceberg.

The credit union now offers all sorts of services, from cash loans to pensions advice and even arranged mortgages and legal advice for the employees of 17 different companies - all involved in transport.

Credit union members pool their savings into a common fund and make low-interest rate loans to each other.

Interest rates are highly competitive. For example, an unsecured loan of pounds 8000 has an APR of 8.9 per cent.

And the Scottish Executive recognises the STCU as an example of "good practice".

Over the years the organisation has acted as a force for good - helping prevent more than 300 workers and their families from eviction when they were about to be made homeless because of their debts.

Father-of-two John, 59, has seen huge changes over the years.

But he has maintained an iron grip on the organisation.

As he looked back on the growth of the credit union, he recalled: "We were a bunch of Transport & General Workers Union officials and in those days the idea of a credit union was quite unusual.

"We hit on the idea because some employees were in genuine need of credit facilities for holidays and unexpected costs and outgoings.

"We were only the 14th credit union to be set up in the UK and only the second from a particular industry. When we set up our capital assets were pounds 8 - all eight of us put in pounds 1 each.

"Now there are very few major credit unions who have not come to us to find out more and to help set up themselves over the years.

"In the early days our expansion was fairly unspectacular.

"But in the last 10 years we have quadrupled in size."

Since 1981 the credit union has loaned, out around pounds 60million to its members i and today employees from Firstbus, Scotrail, Stagecoach, the Glasgow Underground, Glasgow Prestwick Airport are among those who can benefit.

Seven full-time members of staff are employed at the credit union's Argyle Street office in Glasgow.

John said: "We could not have survived had it not been for the political will of politicians over the years. Donald Dewar was very supportive as was Helen Liddell and Gordon Brown.

"There is no doubt we have punched above our weight over the years, but the politicians were very sympathetic towards us.

"After devolution, the Scottish political establishment became aware of credit unions and what can be achieved in communities."

John, from Kinning Park, Glasgow began his career as a shop manager with the Co-operative Society in Glasgow. At 19 he was the Co-op's youngest store manager. He said: "I fell out with the Co-op. I had too much to say for myself and then found myself needing a job. As a quick fix I got a job as a conductor on the buses. I joined the TGWU and got invited to take office. Had it not been for the union work and then becoming a full-time official I would never have stayed in transport."

John believes that the Scottish Transport Credit Union, like other credit unions, face their toughest challenge over the next few years as consumer debt levels spiral.

He said: "People are in more debt. We have to lend very prudently. Even three years ago our board had meetings with the Scottish Executve over this problem. I see it as a crisis. We have made a provision for bad debt of pounds 500,000. We want to help people, but if that person has other debts we need to know.

"We would be doing no one any favours by lending the money and asking no questions. We have to be careful with our members' money."

Tomorrow night the credit union will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a bash at a top Glasgow hotel.

Senior politicians and finance industry experts will all be present to raise a glass to the next 25 years.

And thanks to the original modest pounds 8 investment, the bar bill should not pose any problems.

For more information call the Scottish League of Credit Unions on 0141 774 5020 or visit www.scottishcu.org

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LEADING THE WAY: John Mackin
COPYRIGHT 2006 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 7, 2006
Words:892
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