Steve Harwood

Labour Activist, #Sharkstoppers Campaigner and Blogger

Labour Activist, #Sharkstoppers Campaigner and Blogger. All views are my own (well, some were originally my mother's...) 

Have You Got Five Minutes To Help Save The Pavilion?

I would like to begin by saying something about the Swanscombe Pavilion.

 

The Pavilion is one of those facilities that councils up and down the country lament losing. It’s a sports and social club run for the benefit of the community, providing services like lunches for the elderly, children’s clubs in the school holidays, changing rooms for the local football team.

 

It was renovated by volunteers, and is run by a committee working themselves into the ground to keep it going. It’s not easy running a pub these days, much less a community centred sports and social club. But the Pavilion Committee are determined and organised and they have a business model that will work. They have a beautiful hall, which they could easily rent out for weddings and parties, and use the money to fund their other projects –

 

Or they will be able to, when they get the floor fixed. And the pipework under the floor. And the heating.

 

There is only so much a community group can do. And when they began investigating the faulty heating, and discovered all of the above, they knew they would need help if they were going to stay open. They’re caught in a catch 22 – they can’t afford to fix the building until they start renting the hall, they can’t rent the hall until they’ve fixed the building.

 

This is a problem that needs to be fixed ASAP.  So, after trying a variety of other things, we decided to ask for an amendment to the Dartford Council Budget, allocating £20,000 to the Pavilion to make the repairs. The figure was the more competitive quote the committee had, based on the work they considered really essential and outside of their means. I think it speaks volumes that they wanted to ask for as little as possible. However, when I made the case, I was told by Jeremy Kite and Brian Read that they were already “working” on it, and indeed they were thinking of a far higher amount. They just hadn’t told the Pavilion Committee about this yet.

 

This may, of course, be good news. A grant of MORE than £20,000 would be warmly welcomed. If it materialises. The problem I have is that the Swanscombe and Greenhithe Residents Association could have voted for the amendment, and still continued “working” on this extra funding. The two things are not mutually exclusive. But the Conservatives and The Swanscombe Greenhithe Residents Association voted against the amendment. If they were really serious about funding this project, why not take the opportunity to vote for some right there, in the open? Especially as there is so little time to waste - what would it have cost?

 

I think, before we celebrate the good news, we have to make sure it happens. We have to hold both parties to their decision to vote against this funding, and their commitment to finding alternative sources. Because if this does get kicked into the long grass, and the “work” doesn’t pay off, what will their vote have achieved? Losing the last chance to get the problem fixed?

So, if this is an issue you care about, I urge you to contact Mr Read or Mr Kite, to let them know you know what they’ve promised and that you expect to see results. As I say, there is no time to lose on this, and the more public pressure there is the more chance that this will actually happen.

 

Because if we let them forget about it, it’s still possible we won’t.

Bringing my Experience to the Table

  There is a particular, uneasy feeling I associate with Canary Warf underground station. Perhaps it’s because, ordinarily, the only reason I have for being at Canary Waft Station is being lost on my way somewhere else. I don’t work in a glass skyscraper. I don’t own a suit. I don’t have the first clue how you diversify a portfolio. And yet this week I made my way, deliberately, to the financial heart of the UK.   If you’d told me a few years ago that one day I’d be meeting with the FCA, I would have wondered just how much trouble I’d be in. A few years ago I was in the payday loan trap. I was having to borrow ever increasing amounts in order to pay off my debts. The only reason a girl like me spoke to people in financial services was to arrange an amended payment plan.   I was actually there with other community organisers on the #Sharkstoppers campaign for a negotiation with the FCA, the successor to the FSA, which was formed in April last year. Its job is to regulate financial service providers, like the payday lenders that ruled my life for two years. I, the girl who used to hide her late payment notices so that no one would know she was in trouble, was going to tell the regulators exactly what my experiences had taught me.   My part in this campaign began in 2011, when I went along to a #SharkStoppers event held by Movement For Change. It was the first time I’d admitted my poor financial planning skills in public, and I was shocked by the response. I wasn’t immediately ejected from the room. I wasn’t ignored in favour of other, less compromised speakers. I was listened to, and I was invited to get involved in the campaign.   Working with Movement For Change has changed a lot of things for me. They have given me new skills, more confidence and opportunities that I never thought I’d have. But the most important thing they’ve taught me is that I’m not valuable in spite of my unfortunate experiences; I am all the more valuable because of my experiences.   When I walked into the negotiation with the FCA, I wasn’t thinking about all the things they might know that I didn’t. I was thinking about all the things they didn’t know that I did.   I know that you can be struggling with unaffordable debt and still not show up in the statistics. I defaulted on all of my direct debits rather than risk a pricey late payment to them. I never once rolled over a loan; I just paid it off in full and immediately got another, bigger payday loan to cover it.   I know just how many e-mails you receive once these companies have your address, and what’s in them. We miss you. We haven’t seen you for a while, have you received your discount code? Our trust rating system says you can borrow £1000! Eventually, your inbox is so full of them that every advert alongside it is for a payday lender. While you’re struggling to get yourself out of the cycle of debt your laptop becomes a little shoulder devil, whispering to you ‘…the nice old man says you can have a grand, would £100 be so bad? You could buy shampoo…’   I know how quickly you can get one of these loans, and how quickly you can regret it. I know the frame of mind you’re in when you make an unwise decision with good intentions, especially when you don’t know what alternatives there are.   So, I may not work in a glass skyscraper, but I do know what I’m talking about. And I do have something to bring to the table – literally. I brought print outs of just some of the direct marketing I still receive, asking why I’ve abandoned them or if I want to win a PS4, and covered a good part of the desk with them. I don’t know if that’s how these things are usually done, but it did illustrate the problem.     We asked the FCA to consider five issues with regards to regulating payday lenders. What the cap on the cost of credit will be, how vulnerable people are identified and protected, what constitutes responsible advertising, regulating marketing to children, and responsible credit controls. They agreed that affordability should be the basis of responsible lending, which means more than literally being able to cover the repayment with your wage. They agreed that the cap should be set in pounds and pence rather than a meaningless APR. They agreed to look into social sites and members groups that they hadn’t been aware of before I showed them the invitation I’d been sent. The FCA have committed to sending us updates on these issues, and to meet with us again to discuss the progress. And, as part of their consultation process into future regulation, the FCA has considered my perspective and my ideas. Not in spite of my experience. Because of it.   I still feel uneasy in Canary Warf station thought. Maybe it’s just the height of the escalators. 

 

There is a particular, uneasy feeling I associate with Canary Warf underground station. Perhaps it’s because, ordinarily, the only reason I have for being at Canary Waft Station is being lost on my way somewhere else. I don’t work in a glass skyscraper. I don’t own a suit. I don’t have the first clue how you diversify a portfolio. And yet this week I made my way, deliberately, to the financial heart of the UK.

 

If you’d told me a few years ago that one day I’d be meeting with the FCA, I would have wondered just how much trouble I’d be in. A few years ago I was in the payday loan trap. I was having to borrow ever increasing amounts in order to pay off my debts. The only reason a girl like me spoke to people in financial services was to arrange an amended payment plan.

 

I was actually there with other community organisers on the #Sharkstoppers campaign for a negotiation with the FCA, the successor to the FSA, which was formed in April last year. Its job is to regulate financial service providers, like the payday lenders that ruled my life for two years. I, the girl who used to hide her late payment notices so that no one would know she was in trouble, was going to tell the regulators exactly what my experiences had taught me.

 

My part in this campaign began in 2011, when I went along to a #SharkStoppers event held by Movement For Change. It was the first time I’d admitted my poor financial planning skills in public, and I was shocked by the response. I wasn’t immediately ejected from the room. I wasn’t ignored in favour of other, less compromised speakers. I was listened to, and I was invited to get involved in the campaign.

 

Working with Movement For Change has changed a lot of things for me. They have given me new skills, more confidence and opportunities that I never thought I’d have. But the most important thing they’ve taught me is that I’m not valuable in spite of my unfortunate experiences; I am all the more valuable because of my experiences.

 

When I walked into the negotiation with the FCA, I wasn’t thinking about all the things they might know that I didn’t. I was thinking about all the things they didn’t know that I did.

 

I know that you can be struggling with unaffordable debt and still not show up in the statistics. I defaulted on all of my direct debits rather than risk a pricey late payment to them. I never once rolled over a loan; I just paid it off in full and immediately got another, bigger payday loan to cover it.

 

I know just how many e-mails you receive once these companies have your address, and what’s in them. We miss you. We haven’t seen you for a while, have you received your discount code? Our trust rating system says you can borrow £1000! Eventually, your inbox is so full of them that every advert alongside it is for a payday lender. While you’re struggling to get yourself out of the cycle of debt your laptop becomes a little shoulder devil, whispering to you ‘…the nice old man says you can have a grand, would £100 be so bad? You could buy shampoo…’

 

I know how quickly you can get one of these loans, and how quickly you can regret it. I know the frame of mind you’re in when you make an unwise decision with good intentions, especially when you don’t know what alternatives there are.

 

So, I may not work in a glass skyscraper, but I do know what I’m talking about. And I do have something to bring to the table – literally. I brought print outs of just some of the direct marketing I still receive, asking why I’ve abandoned them or if I want to win a PS4, and covered a good part of the desk with them. I don’t know if that’s how these things are usually done, but it did illustrate the problem.  

 

We asked the FCA to consider five issues with regards to regulating payday lenders. What the cap on the cost of credit will be, how vulnerable people are identified and protected, what constitutes responsible advertising, regulating marketing to children, and responsible credit controls. They agreed that affordability should be the basis of responsible lending, which means more than literally being able to cover the repayment with your wage. They agreed that the cap should be set in pounds and pence rather than a meaningless APR. They agreed to look into social sites and members groups that they hadn’t been aware of before I showed them the invitation I’d been sent. The FCA have committed to sending us updates on these issues, and to meet with us again to discuss the progress. And, as part of their consultation process into future regulation, the FCA has considered my perspective and my ideas. Not in spite of my experience. Because of it.

 

I still feel uneasy in Canary Warf station thought. Maybe it’s just the height of the escalators. 

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