The hon. Lady makes an excellent point; that is also my experience.
I am talking about consultation with democratically elected people. Banks certainly ought to speak to the local authority leader before making a decision to say, “We’re thinking about it. What do you think the impact might be?” All of us, as professionals and Members of Parliament, are used to having private, confidential conversations every day of the week. We are sometimes able to say, in private, “Have you thought about this or that?” We can talk about the future economic context of a community of which the bank may not be aware. But there was none of that; I was presented with a fait accompli. Frankly, HSBC was patronising.
When I was a 16-year-old with what felt like very little prospects way back in the mid-1980s, I got a little job over the summer holidays in that local HSBC branch—it was then Midland Bank. I feel personally affronted that the bank where I saw my first prospects, and where I had put on a suit and thought that I might have serious job one day, is to be shut down without HSBC even thinking of consulting me. It meant a lot in the local community that I used to work in the bank, but HSBC was not interested. That is what big banking has come to in this country after all that we have paid in. I am frankly appalled by HSBC’s behaviour.
Given that the Government talk about being a friend of small business and the high street, it is important that they think carefully about this issue. In June 2014, research by YouGov for the British Bankers Association found that over 50% of people see a branch as important, with that figure rising to 68% for SME customers. The impact of branch closures goes far beyond local businesses having nowhere to go to get credit or to do their banking. The consequences are grave for the whole high street.
Local retailers are hit hard by the fact that customers go elsewhere when they do not have easy access to cash, which is still the preference for many, despite the rise of chip and pin and contactless payments. Cash still accounts for 46% of high street sales, with that figure rising to 75% in newsagents and convenience stores. On average, local ATMs inject some £16 per withdrawal directly into nearby stores, which amounts to £36 billion a year. More than a third of total high-street spending is contingent on the ready availability of cashpoints.
I was told by HSBC that one reason why it was closing my local branch was footfall on the high street. I pointed to the fact, which it had seemed not to realise, that we had had riots just a few years before and that we had found wonderful businesses that wanted to support the high street, not desert it, as it made its way back from the riots. Given that this bank was meant to be one of our national institutions, citing footfall as its reason was deeply painful to my constituents.
In tough times, people remember who their friends are. The banks should think carefully about their customer base and how their customers feel when banks desert a community that has already been through the mill and is trying to build its way back. I think of parts of this country that not so long ago had floods, for example. It takes a long time for a high street, a village or a town to get over a flood. Are the banks going to blame lack of footfall and say, “Things were a bit depressed for a few months so we just couldn’t stand by you. We’re disappearing”? Customers have stood by them, so it is about time that they grew some, as my mum would say, and stood by the community.