The Bank of Cornwall

The Bank of Cornwall







You can be forgiven for thinking that, as far as the centre of Britain’s government is concerned, Cornwall is not a part of the political landscape. Heartfelt pleas to Westminster go unheard, as evinced by the receipt of just £474 in public infrastructure spending per capita in the South West compared with £5726 per capita in the South East (Institute for Public Policy Research, 2014). Yet a building programme for Cornwall of not less than 47,500 new houses is dictated by Westminster, which will result in a local increase in population by at least 100,000 souls in the next ten years. There is no parallel commitment to support this surge through additional public services such as schools, hospitals, doctor’s surgeries, sewage works and so on. In some areas, a quarter of 16 to 24 year olds remain unemployed and yet public investment into local infrastructure for business – so vital to the generation of jobs and pride – is around £19 per head in the South West and £2700 in the South East (Federation of Small Business, 2014).

Cornwall’s motto is ‘One and All’, which simply means that all who live within its bounds are in the same boat; but the boat needs the power of wealth in its sails to drive forward. Part of the challenge in attaining this is to ensure that money generated within the Duchy remains here; a further element is to grasp opportunities to create wealth that historically are taken outside the borders. One such opportunity is in independent financial services that profit by their support of sustainable enterprises.

The notion of a community sharing their common wealth through a modern financial institution has been a practical proposition since the founding of the Co-Operative bank in Rochdale, Lancashire in 1844. The mechanism is simple. We value the services of a bank to provide an efficient means of bill payment and the secure storage of money that we don’t wish to keep in the sock drawer. In return for this they charge fees and, by depositing our money, we also give them license to gain profit from our assets. Because a bank may borrow nine times more than it holds in assets, it is able to exploit a much stronger position than its native funds would allow. Such a position has been abused many times in the past, but this has been a consequence of greedy and irresponsible individuals taking advantage of a system with weak controls. It is not a reason to condemn the principles of the system itself. If a co-operative bank were to be established in Cornwall, it would keep wealth circulating within the community and, when competently run, will benefit all the people associated with it.

A Bank of Cornwall also needs to be independent of the major banking companies who have a radically different ethos; not least because they are owned by shareholders who expect a personal dividend rather than benefits that flow to the community at large. In the co-operative model, profits are neither trousered by a small group, nor ‘managed’ either directly or indirectly by Westminster. They are re-invested directly into the community. Having said this, there are commercial banks which have given us wise models of best practice in the stewardship of funds; the management of the distribution of profits; and the governance of the institution itself.

Please bear in mind when I tell you that the UK Financial Services Authority (FSA) have reported that a new bank needs just £4.25m to get started, that Cornwall Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) will allocate over £500m from Europe in the next year. Discussions with the FSA can start as soon as the capital is secured and the regulatory green light is just six months away once a satisfactory management team and IT are in place.

So let us take the matter into our own hands through a co-operative effort to build a Cornwall that we want, in the way we want to. The start-up funds are at hand; men and women of superb talent with strong financial experience and sincere goodwill are already associated with The Cornwall Community Foundation (CCF); and we have a highly efficient and effective team for the distribution of profits within the CCF itself. Such an arrangement can help us achieve financial self-reliance, autonomy, maturity and a display of true virtue: the strength to stand on our own honest merits.

Barclays Bank, one of the high street’s ‘Big Four’, have just reported ‘disappointing’ global profits of £1.8 bn for 2014/5. If this is scaled down for Cornwall, it is the kind of ‘disappointment’ that can be borne to address the harsh facts of neglect: one in five children under 14 living in poverty; 12,000 people who depended on food banks in 2013; house prices that are more than ten times the typical earnings in the Duchy.

An independent co-operative Bank of Cornwall, managed ethically for the people of Cornwall, is a practical first step in gaining financial independence for One and All and will place our destiny where it belongs. Amongst us.


© Orlando Kimber 2015

Author’s note: I’m a volunteer supporter of Cornwall Community Foundation and not employed by them in any capacity. These opinions are my own and are not to be taken as an official statement by CCF in any respect.

Image: The Co-Operative Society of Lerwick Logo. 19th Century.