I welcome the benefits that electronic payments are bringing to people and businesses across the UK. However, the Government recognise the importance of cash to many, particularly the most vulnerable members of society. That is why we have committed to safeguarding access to cash for those who need it. In the light of changing payment trends, the Government have created the Joint Authorities Cash Strategy Group. That Treasury-led group will seek to bring together the regulators and the Bank of England to inform and co-ordinate members’ activities related to cash and safeguard access for those who need it.
I recently sent a survey about access to cash to thousands of my constituents. There was an overwhelming response, because they are terrified that we are going far too fast into a cashless society. The next time the Minister meets banks, will he raise with them the impact that rural banking hubs could have on our local communities, just as the pilot business hub has had in Birmingham?
I recognise my hon. Friend’s excellent campaigning on this matter, which we have had meetings to discuss. The Government have no direct role in the matter, but we recognise the role that banking hubs have played for businesses across six trial sites. We are looking at that carefully, and I will be very happy to raise it with the banks when I meet them next.
Will the Government commit to working with cash machine suppliers to ensure that cash withdrawals remain free across the board? Charges disproportionately affect those on lower incomes, who make lower cash withdrawals.
Absolutely. We are looking into that. The Payment Systems Regulator, which was set up four years ago, is responsible for overseeing LINK. It has two schemes in place to safeguard access to cash in the most impoverished communities and to ensure that, when an ATM is vulnerable to closure, there is a responsibility to keep it open if constituents would have to go more than 1 km to access cash.
I acknowledge the difficult situation that my hon. Friend has in Bungay. The Government-established Payment Systems Regulator is closely monitoring developments in ATM provision and, as I said, there are mechanisms in place to intervene. I am very happy to meet him to discuss the application of those to the situation in Bungay.
Given that post offices and credit unions provide easy access to cash, is it not now time to offer business rates relief to both to enhance the provision of cash and other affordable financial services?
Of course small businesses receive that relief. The Chancellor will have heard that representation for the next fiscal event, but it is not a matter that I can comment on specifically at this point.