The council’s ruling administration has been criticised for refusing to promote an initiative aimed at helping people without bank accounts to manage their finances.
Under the CredEcardplus scheme, run by the Edinburgh-based Capital Credit Union (CCU), wages and benefits can be paid directly into a prepaid reloadable card and monthly bills – including rent, council tax and social care charges – are paid by direct debit.
The balance of a client’s money is then loaded onto the card to pay for goods and cover cash withdrawals. Anyone can apply and no credit checks are required.
Last month’s SBC meeting heard from Conservative opposition councillor Gavin Logan (Tweeddale East) that a similar scheme had been piloted in Perthshire and Kinross with a high uptake from social housing tenants, social care clients and people at risk of homelessness. In that case, the local authority had helped finance the distribution of the card in association with a credit union.
He asked if SBC was prepared to promote the scheme now being offered by the CCU which has 19,000 members in the Borders and Lothians, assets of more than £20million, and counts the council, along with NHS Borders and the Scottish Borders Housing Association, among its sponsoring employers.
But Councillor Frances Renton (Mid Berwickshire), the Lib Dem executive member for social work and housing, quickly rebuffed the suggestion.
“This council supports initiatives which are designed to help people manage their finances in a sustainable way, but it would not be appropriate for the council to promote a service offered by any single company,” said Mrs Renton.
When pressed by Mr Logan, she asserted: “I am pleased the uptake [in Perth and Kinross] has been high, but I stress again we don’t think it’s appropriate.”
After the meeting, Mr Logan said the council’s stance was “ridiculous”.
He told The Southern: “Councillor Renton’s answer was both inaccurate – because the council already promotes the Capital Credit Union for its own employees – and completely lacking in empathy and understanding of the needs of the disadvantaged people of the Borders.
“It would cost very little to promote the prepaid debit card scheme, whichever financial institution is offering it, via council tax bills or housing associations or in the SB Connect quarterly newspaper.
“The refusal to countenance such a course of action is ironic given that, on the same day, the SNP/Lib Dem administration pushed through a series of rewards, including shopping discount cards, for its own staff.
“It is in my view unacceptable that third party business cases for vanity projects such as the Great Tapestry of Scotland are funded by taxpayers’ money, while worthy schemes such as this – at a fraction of the cost – are ignored and not even considered by our administration.”