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Bank Branch Closures

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:23 pm on 30th June 2016.

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Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Conservative, Wells 2:23 pm, 30th June 2016

To be fair to the banks, they did write to notify me of their decision, and the more noise I made in the media, the more willing they were to meet me here to discuss it. However, the right hon. Gentleman would be right to suggest—and I would agree—that it was not exactly a process whereby the local Member of Parliament was encouraged, as a representative of the community, to take soundings on what was actually of value to that community. It was more about assuaging my fears and trying to persuade me that various steps were being taken in mitigation.

I was talking about the vulnerable and the isolated. There are certain things that draw the elderly, in particular, out of their homes over the course of a week, such as going into town to do their banking and to visit the market and the library. When banks are removed from towns and people are told, “We will teach you to be better at using a computer”, that is all well and good, but it does not alter the fact that, for some, that journey into town will have been their interaction with the outside world for that week.

Moreover, digital exclusion is a real problem, in two respects. First, there is the issue of competence. There are people who are just not very good at handling their affairs over the internet. There are people who have been doing things in the same way for a lifetime, and who do not trust the process of putting their financial affairs in the hands of electrons on a screen. They want to give their money to a person over a counter, and see it locked away in the drawer and on its way to the bank’s vaults.

Then there is connectivity. I know this is not a rural-urban issue and I know that the Government’s broadband roll-out programme is making great advances in areas like mine, but the reality is that these banks are closing more quickly than the broadband network is being improved and so even those who are willing and able to do their banking online are not always able to do so.