I congratulate my hon. Friend Christian Matheson and James Heappey on securing this important debate and echo the concerns that have been raised. Looking at the evidence, it appears that the Government lack the political will to hold the banks’ feet to the fire. What happened when a review into banking culture was announced? It was quietly shelved a few months later. What happened when branches were closing down at a rate of almost two a day in rural communities and deprived areas across the UK, affecting local businesses, the elderly and the disabled? Very little indeed. And what is happening when banks renege on their promise to retain the last bank in town, meaning that 1,500 communities have lost all their banks? Absolutely nothing.
It does not strike me as fair that ordinary people are paying the price for the failure and mistakes of banking executives. Those ordinary people have been good to the banks. They have loyally paid in their savings month after month. They have taken out their mortgages with their bank. In the cases of Lloyds, Halifax, RBS and NatWest, they have bailed them out after the banks got themselves into trouble during the financial crisis. The banks have got themselves into trouble time and again, lurching from one scandal to the next, by aiding and abetting clients who want to avoid paying their taxes, fixing the LIBOR rate, money laundering, mis-selling PPI—the list goes on. Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and RBS have been hit with fines of more than £55 billion since 2010, and that figure is set to rise to £75 billion by the end of next year, but who takes the hit? Their customers, whose views and needs are completely disregarded by the banks’ management teams.
It is not as though there is no evidence to tell the banks that their customers value their local branches and want them to remain. Research from the Competition and Markets Authority in April 2015 found that 63% of current account customers felt that having a convenient local branch was either “essential” or “very important”. Research conducted for TSB in June found that 69% of people believed it was important to have a bank branch close to where they lived. Just because more people are repaying small debts to friends or carrying out basic money management online or by using an app on their phone, that does not mean that branches are becoming redundant—far from it. The Social Market Foundation has found that, when it comes to big financial decisions such as taking out a loan or a mortgage, or seeking financial planning advice, the majority of consumers still use bank branches. In these troubled economic times, ordinary folk want to be able to go into their branch and get good advice so that they can properly plan their finances, but in towns, villages and cities across the country, that is soon going to be nigh on impossible. That is why this debate is so important.
Banks are disproportionately shutting up shop in lower income areas. Indeed, 90% of the 600 branch closures between April 2015 and April 2016 took place in areas where the median household income is below the average of £27,600 a year. Move Your Money has told me that, far from responding to demand pressures, the major UK banks are simply closing branches in poorer areas and opening or retaining them in more affluent ones. We are seeing the creation of a dual financial system in all but name, with one section for the wealthy and the middle classes, and another for those on low incomes.
The University of Nottingham has found that the least affluent third of the population has borne the brunt of two thirds of the total closures since 1995. Indeed, the rate of closures experienced in traditional manufacturing and inner-city areas is 3.5 times higher than in areas defined by academic researchers as middle England—mainly suburbs and small towns. It is therefore a cruel twist of fate that those who are most likely to be adversely affected by branch closures are the people living in those areas in which most closures are happening. Do we really want this country to become like some areas of the United States where those who are already deprived and poor are bereft of quality financial services and left to flounder? Again, that is why this debate is so important.
I know the situation to be true because earlier this year HSBC decided to close its branch on Tottenham High Road after almost 100 years. That followed the closure of a branch of Barclays the year before. In just two weeks’ time, that HSBC will close its doors for the last time. My constituents have been told to travel to Southgate if they want to access a branch, but the journey takes at least 45 minutes by bus. What is the impact of that closure on the elderly? What is the impact on the disabled, the vulnerable and local traders who rely on such branches? I am appalled that HSBC’s management did not feel it appropriate, or even a matter of common courtesy, to consult the local Member of Parliament, the local authority, councillors or the community before making that decision.
The situation is an outrage because my constituency is a target regeneration area for the Government and the Mayor. The Treasury has underwritten regeneration in Tottenham to the tune of £500 million. We have Spurs—the best premiership football club—building a new stadium in the constituency, yet the bank did not think that it was worth picking up the phone and calling the local authority leader or the local MP to say, “We are thinking about this. What do you think? What will the High Road look like in the months and years ahead?”