Sunday, 03 July 2016 18:48

Bank closures 'damage communities'

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Bank closures 'damage communities'

MPs have voiced concern that bank branch closures are devastating local communities.

The issue was debated in the House of Commons on Thursday (30 June) following a motion proposed by Chester MP Chris Matheson.

Continued bank branch closures were damaging local communities, small businesses and the welfare of senior citizens, he said.

Calling on the government to help maintain access to local banking, Mr Matheson said the physical presence of a bank branch remained important – despite internet banking.

He added: "For all the advantages of internet banking – and there are many – the blunt truth is that a small business cannot pay cash into the bank through a laptop computer."

    See also: Rural areas bear brunt of bank closures

Mr Matheson said high street banks should come together where they were closing branches to form local banking hubs.

"They should maintain provision on local high streets, as opposed to major town centre high streets, in shared premises and with shared costs," he said.

These hubs could include provide automatic paying-in and withdrawal machines already seen in bank branches, along with phone booths so customers could contact call centres if needed.

Wells MP James Heappey said the issue of bank branch closures was gathering pace.

"There were 222 in 2013 and 681 last year, and given that there have already been 333 this year, it appears that the pace will quicken still further."

He added: "There is also the challenge of rurality."

Public transport links in some areas did not allow people to travel freely from one town to another to do their banking when the bank on their high street had closed, said Mr Heappey.

"The people whom that disadvantages most are the most vulnerable and the isolated in our society," he warned.

Brecon & Radnorshire MP Chris Davies said countryside communities were particularly badly affected by bank branch closures.

"The problem is especially acute in rural areas such as mine.

"It can take someone 40 minutes or more to drive from their farm or village to the nearest town to visit a branch.

"When a branch closes, it will often have been the last remaining branch in the town

Mobile bank branches were one solution, said Mr Davies. But so far, few banks had been willing to commit to such a provision.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the closure of bank branches and the accessibility of banking were issues of cross-party concern.

"Local banks play a vital role in our communities, both in large cities and in rural areas," he said. "This is a question of access to banking and financial inclusion."

Responding on behalf of the government, economic secretary to the Treasury Harriett Baldwin said she was among an increasing number of people who didn't visit their bank regularly.

"Customer behaviour is clearly changing,'" said Ms Baldwin. "The number of times that we all use a branch in any given year has dropped almost 30%."

Recent data from the British Banking Association showed that branch transactions had fallen to 270m branch customer contacts in 2016 – about four visits per person per year.

Ms Baldwin added: "Protocol means that when a bank decides to close a branch it must think carefully about the consequences of doing so, particularly when it is the last bank in town."

The post office network had an important role to play in solving the problem – and the government had committed to subsidising the network and making it viable.

Assuring MPs her "door is open," Ms Baldwin said it was important to maintain good access to finance for everybody as times changed.

"The new starter banks—five have got a banking licence in this Parliament so far—are an important part of the solution," she said.

So too was the way firms were adapting branches to use technology to provide more services.

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