Bill will pressure banks to do more for community projects, says Hazel Blears

Her private member's bill has cross-party support, says the former communities secretary

Former minister Hazel Blears
Former minister Hazel Blears

MPs from the three main parties have backed a private member's bill designed to increase support from banks for community projects, according to the former communities secretary Hazel Blears.

Blears tabled the Banking and Financial Services (Community Investment) Bill late last year, and it is scheduled for its second reading in March.

Under the bill, a new as yet unspecified "voluntary mechanism" would be set up to enable banks, building societies and other financial service providers to help community groups by donating money and allowing staff to do more voluntary work.

In an interview with Third Sector, Blears said the private member’s bill had received support from Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative MPs at its first reading in December.

Blears acknowledged that many banks already supported charities and community groups with donations and employee volunteering. But she said that a formal mechanism to facilitate this would put pressure on them to do more.

"With a voluntary mechanism, once some banks signed up, others would feel obliged to do the same," she said. "Since the bankers are receiving huge bonuses, they should be doing more to support communities that need help."

Blears said she had written to Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, urging him to set up an ‘asset lock’ for assets transferred to community ownership under the Localism Bill and to public sector ‘spin-off’ groups. The lock would prevent the assets from being sold to profit-making businesses.

Blears is chair of the Social Action Forum, a group set up by the Labour Party to formulate its response to the government’s big society agenda.

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