Bangladeshi banking to help Scots

Bangladeshi banking to help Scots
BBC News

But legal uncertainty may scupper the plans by Professor Muhammad Yunus to offer small business loans to people without collateral.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning economist fears the benefits system could stop the Grameen Bank coming to Glasgow.

A documentary, Scotland’s Brand New Bank will be broadcast on BBC One on Tuesday 7 July at 2235 BST.

The Department of Work and Pensions has not been able to say what would happen to claimants’ welfare payments if they took out a loan.

Mr Yunus started the micro-finance revolution in Bangladesh with a loan of $27 in 1976 – since then his Grameen Bank expanded to 38 countries and become a global success story.

Run entirely for the benefit of its customers and with executives that neither own shares nor earn bonuses, the Grameen Bank claims to be able to serve the unbankable and offer real hope to the needy.

Mr Yunus said: ‘We lend money to the poorest people, poorest women in Bangladesh. No collateral, no guarantee, no lawyers, and it works.’

Poverty has been cut in Bangladesh with these tiny business loans to millions of poor women who support each other in groups of five. Repayment rates are more than 98% and bankers visit borrowers every single week – by bicycle.

Grameen Glasgow will be based in a community-run centre in the Sighthill area of the city, where more than 59% of children live in workless households with up to four generations unemployed.

There are plenty of ideas there already from women keen to take out loans. For example, Maureen McBain wants to start a café.

She said: ‘I’d need my pots, my pans, my dishes. Also I’d have to take a food hygiene course which I’m quite looking forward to.’

But the biggest hurdle for Grameen Glasgow could prove to be the welfare system, which Frank Field MP said is designed to stop people striking out on their own.

The former Minister of Welfare Reform told BBC Scotland: ‘We’re not supporting people who are trying to succeed, we only reward people if they don’t try. That’s a wicked, wicked system.’

Nobody at the Department of Work and Pensions has been able to explain what flexibility – if any – might be available for Grameen borrowers.

Mr Yunus said: ‘The problem we try to avoid is welfare and I don’t think we can avoid it in Glasgow. We are not worried about the cultural part of it, because we always create a counter culture.

‘Our problem is the legal issue. Does the law also allow someone to take a loan when you are still in welfare?’

He added: ‘If it works in every single country, why can’t it work in Glasgow, why can’t it work in Scotland?’

The professor is a founding member of the Magnus Magnusson Fellowship, set up by Glasgow Caledonian University in honour the writer and broadcaster to award scholarships for students or researchers.

Pamela Gillies, principal and vice-chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University, is working with Grameen and interested Sighthill residents on the launch of the bank in Scotland.

She said: ‘We have some of the worst health inequalities in the developed world.

‘A large number of people on disability allowance, we have a very large proportion of the population who are unemployed and are seeking work and so all of these things coming together means that we have a huge amount of talent and resource.’

She added: ‘This model is an opportunity to give them practically real cash and real hope.’

Social Investment Scotland Chairman Ray Perman said it was considering channelling substantial amounts of Scottish government money into the new bank as start-up capital.

‘I think if we can somehow enthuse people with the vision of getting over this terrible problem we’ve had for three decades now, of eradicating poverty and under-achievement in Glasgow we could make it work,’ he said.

‘People would come to that cause and try it and let’s face it, until now things have not worked, so trying something new, even something new coming from Bangladesh, has to be worth a shot.’