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MPs debate rural bank closures

FEARS over rural bank closures have prompted a debate in Parliament.

The Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday (21 February) follows recent rural branch closures by HSBC and Barclays.

It was secured by Liberal Democrat MP Roger Williams (Brecon & Radnorshire) to reiterate concerns about the impact of closures on rural communities.

"Although 20% of the population live in rural areas, it has never been more difficult for them to access money and financial services," he said.

Labour MP Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) suggested the government should consider a British version of the Community Reinvestment Act.

The act forces American banks to disclose where they lend and demonstrate they are performing well in order to maintain their banking licences.

Nic Dakin, Labour MP for Scunthorpe, said the closure of an HSBC branch in his constituency would leave rural residents facing a nine-mile trip to the nearest branch.

"This is clearly an issue that needs addressing," he told MPs.

Julian Sturdy, Tory MP for York Outer, said shops were suffering the knock-on effects of rural bank closures.

"If cash points in villages are lost and people cannot get access to the cash, they do not spend it locally," he said.

"That has an impact on local shops and on tourism in rural areas."

Speaking on behalf of the government, Treasury minister Chloe Smith said branch closures were commercial decisions for the banks involved.

"The government do not intervene in such decisions, as a matter of principle," she said.

"All banking service providers must balance customer interests, market competition and other commercial factors when considering their strategy."

The government's response was criticised after the debate by Derek French, chairman of the Campaign for Community Banking Services.

Mr French said the debate rural bank closures had included many useful suggestions for government and the banking industry.

But the government's response could be summarized as "While Rome burns" as it contained no sense of urgency and nothing new.

Urgent problems were being caused by a renewed wave of bank branch closures badly affecting both urban and rural communities, said Mr French.

The government should call a summit to explore branch sharing and other cost-effective ways of maintaining banking services in communities.

Mr French said: "Often in these cases closure of retail and other services follows bank loss with further damage to the most vulnerable."

A transcript of the debate can be read here.


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