Achieving the #peoplesplan for Croydon and Sutton means providing an environment in which our people and responsible businesses can thrive. And as most working people will know, having seen wages stagnate over a decade and services slashed to the bone in response to the financial crisis, having a finance sector that supports rather than stymies society will be key to achieving this aim.
Our boroughs have a fantastic base to build from to achieve a thriving and prosperous local economy, from having London’s largest population in Croydon, to one of the lowest rates of unemployment in Sutton. Initiatives such as the Croydon Works scheme and the Croydon Growth Zone offer promising opportunities, especially if these can help our large youth population into training, apprenticeships, and employment.
But whilst these largely public-lead programmes can make a real difference, the private sector also has a role to play – and this is where the current financial system is really letting us down. We are all well-versed in the scandals that major banks such as HSBC, Lloyds, Barclays and NatWest have been involved with, from rip-off PPI mis-selling to facilitating industrial-scale tax avoidance that deprives our services of the funds they need.
Yet on top of this, these major banks have also closed 23 bank branches across our two boroughs between 2015-18, with Croydon being the joint-third worst affected borough in London – and with more closures having been conducted since then.
These closures make life much more difficult for the elderly, the disabled, and those that rely on cash (who are more likely to be from lower income households) because branches give us access to our cash and services that can facilitate our day to day lives. As well as making life tougher for individuals, branch closures also make things harder for small businesses, restricting the ways and places they can drop off cash takings, and increasing costs on those businesses. And on top of this, evidence from the RSA suggests that bank branch closures make lending conditions even worse for the small and medium sized enterprises that form the backbone of our economy and provide the majority of employment, creating a vicious cycle of underinvestment that hastens the decline of our already struggling high streets.
It’s for these reasons and more that Labour have had banking reform as a central pillar of the party’s agenda for the last four years, with our policy platform recently laid out in detail by the Shadow Chancellor. Our plan nationally includes establishing a network of local banks based in Post-Offices, founding a National Investment Bank to deliver the long-term infrastructure financing we need to transform our economy, and to harness the public ownership of RBS so that it acts in the public interest.
Our national policy framework is the right one to deliver long-lasting and sustainable change in finance for the better, but we needn’t wait until Labour wins power nationally to take steps to reform finance locally. I have long advocated for a “peoples bank” in Croydon, and in my role as councillor have explored the viability of the council facilitating and potentially investing in a locally-rooted bank that can deliver inclusive and socially impactful services. Co-operatively owned and democratically accountable to local people, such a bank could reduce the poverty premium for our poorest residents, improve outcomes for our small businesses, and help create and capture greater prosperity and opportunity for all residents right here Croydon and Sutton.
Using council and GLA resources to spur innovative, impactful, and inclusive solutions to our local challenges is what the #peoplesplan is all about. The financial crisis and ensuing austerity agenda pursued by the Liberal Democrats and the Tories has shown how powerful a force banking can play in our lives. Labour’s national plan for financial reform and our local plan for action shows how we can harness that same power but for good, and use it to rebuild and renew our community for the many and not the few.