Prime Minister Freundel Stuart speaking at last evening’s official opening of the new headquarters??of Co-operators General Insurance Company Limited at Upper Collymore Rock, St. Michael.??(C.Pitt/BGIS)

Government remains committed to supporting entrepreneurship in Barbados says Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.

While addressing the official opening of the new headquarters at Co-operators General Insurance Company Limited at Upper Collymore Rock, St. Michael, last evening, Mr. Stuart said this increased support was evident in a number of initiatives government had adopted.

He told his audience: "We have ventured beyond the existing small business community to attract and find new entrepreneurs. We have been revisiting the curricula at our educational institutions with a view to helping to spread the entrepreneurial culture; and we have continued to invest heavily in the education of all our people in an effort to make them the wellspring of sustainable prosperity driven by innovation."

The Prime Minister added that institutions such as the Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme, the Barbados Youth Business Trust, the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation and FundAccess had been strengthened to facilitate business-start-ups and provide training, mentorship and networking opportunities.

"So, we have made steady, even though moderate, progress in spreading the entrepreneurial culture and launching successful entrepreneurs. But on reflection, I believe?? that there are two areas that need greater support and it is here where I think the co-operative movement can make a significant contribution," he said.

Mr. Stuart listed those areas as building on the sense of community that exists within and between co-operative institutions; and the facilitation of access to capital for potential entrepreneurs, many of whom are members of the credit unions.

He continued: "Within a matter of just over 60 years, the co-operative movement in Barbados has grown exponentially through mutual support within and between credit unions. Today, there are 35 credit unions operating in Barbados with a membership of over 152,000 persons. More than 72 per cent of economically active Barbadians are credit union members. Indeed, the World Council of Credit Unions considers this the highest level of market penetration for credit unions in the world, compared to 43 per cent in the USA and one per cent in the UK.

"The total assets of these [local] credit unions is currently $1.579 billion. These assets can, with good management, become a spur for the development of the poorer sections of the society and to economic growth in Barbados."

Mr. Stuart said he was aware that, with the support of Co-operators General Insurance Company Ltd, the Barbados Co-operative and Credit Union League was spearheading the prospect of establishing a wholly locally-owned Barbadian Co-operative Bank that would provide additional financial services to credit union members.

According to him, these needs would include access to start-up capital by the growing number of potential entrepreneurs with a credible business case.

"The thinking is that even though the proposed Co-operative Bank could not possibly overload its portfolio with this category of borrowers, its very existence would encourage commercial banks to make a greater contribution to the cause of financing business enterprise. In addition to this, I accept that Barbados needs indigenous banking solutions to help to cushion the impact of external financial shocks. Every country recognises the need for such buffers in the highly interconnected and volatile global market place," he surmised.

The Prime Minister said the co-operative movement could either transform one of its existing institutions into a bank or establish a solution from scratch. However, he stressed that the movement would have to think carefully and discuss extensively the merits and demerits of the idea.


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