John Beard, who died in September 1950 at the age of 78, was fundamentally involved in the creation of the Bank. Following the approval of Birmingham Corporation, in April 1916, to Neville Chamberlain’s scheme for the municipality creating the Birmingham Corporation Savings Bank, the Council appointed a special committee to bring it into effect. That committee consisted of:
The Lord Mayor (Alderman Neville Chamberlain, JP)
Alderman J H Lloyd, JP
Alderman T O Williams
Councillor C T Appleby
Councillor J Beard
Councillor E Hallas
Prior to becoming a Birmingham City Councillor representing Saltley Ward in 1910, John Beard (who was born at Ellerdine in Shropshire) had worked as a labourer, coal miner, and an insurance agent, before taking a prominent part in the organisation of women in the chain-making industry in Cradley Heath. He helped to found the Planet Insurance Company, which was eventually taken over by the Co-operative Insurance Company. He came to Birmingham in 1904 when he was appointed as a full-time organiser of the agricultural section of the Transport and General Workers’ Union.
John Beard was actively involved with the rights of working people, a fact that was acknowledged by the award of the CBE in the 1938 Birthday Honours where the citation of his award noted that he was a "Member and Past President of the Council of Agriculture for England. Formerly President of the Workers' Union and of the Transport & General Workers' Union, President of the Trade Union Congress in 1930."
With the restriction on the operation of the Birmingham Corporation Savings Bank that deposits could only be accepted from employed persons by way of deductions from wages, there was a natural distrust by workers that such a scheme would enable employers to take advantage of knowing how much an employee could afford to save. John Beard described this as “this everlasting suspicion” and his background in union work enabled him to talk effectively in the propaganda campaign that was undertaken in factories to publicise the new Bank.
John Beard continued to be a member of the committee of the temporary Bank, and actively canvassed for its replacement by a permanent bank after the War. On June 25th 1919, the Birmingham Corporation Bill came before the Local Legislation Committee of the House of Commons. Councillor Beard was one of a number of people who spoke in favour of the Bill:
I regard the proposals of this Bill as eminently in the interests of the community of Birmingham.
I have attended and spoken at several meetings of workmen throughout the city of Birmingham on the Bank. The workers do feel a real interest in the Bank.
The limitations of the present Act have been a severe handicap to us. As a matter of fact, they nearly prevented our getting the Bank started. It may be really much of its prejudice, but the ordinary working man thinks that the employer ought not to know how much he can save, and it is very difficult to tell them that that might be to their advantage as well as to their disadvantage. They think “Well, I am not supposed to know what the employer has got, and the employer has no right to know what I have got.”
My experience is that the habit of saving is accelerated among workpeople by the knowledge that the Municipality provides the means. The Municipality is something they understand. They feel an inducement from it, which the Post Office can never supply.
My view of the Post Office is that it does not induce a man to save as the savings Bank might do, and I do not regard the Post Office as a popular means of saving at all. The post office official looks upon him when he goes to make his deposit as a nuisance, and probably a greater nuisance when he goes to make a withdrawal of a pound.
My view is that it would be a very distinct advantage to encourage the ownership of houses, especially in the city of Birmingham. It would tend to establish a higher standard of life because men would not buy the worst class of house, and if they had a few hundreds of pounds and were able to borrow the remainder, they would build a better class of house.
It would increase a man’s sense of civic and national responsibility, and more than that it would help to keep up the housing problem of Birmingham to a higher standard because of a man’s individual interest in the house itself. It would tend, of course, to more intelligent interest being taken in affairs.
When the Birmingham Municipal Bank came into existence on September 1st 1919, John Beard was a member of the committee responsible for setting up the permanent bank. Then, as Alderman John Beard, he also served on the first two Bank committees until moving to London to take up an executive position with the Workers’ Union. But, after leaving Birmingham, his efforts in helping to establish the Birmingham Municipal Bank were not forgotten; at the Commemoration Dinner for the 1933 opening of the new Broad Street Head Office, Neville Chamberlain recalled that John Beard was one of those "who did yeoman service as pioneers in the early days".
(Obituary compiled with the assistance of Lois Waters – great-granddaughter of John Beard)