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While branch closures are commercial decisions for banks, I regularly engage with all key stakeholders on this issue and I recognise that it can be very difficult for some constituents, particularly if a branch is the last one in a community. The major banks have signed up to the access to banking standard, overseen by the Lending Standards Board, and that commits them to work with communities to minimise the impact of branch closures.
When the Government bailed out the banks, it was partly in recognition of the fact that banks were public services as well as profit-making businesses. I am disturbed—as will be the people of Staveley—by the Minister’s hands-off approach. Do not the Government either need to sit down with the banks and ensure they have a real commitment to having a bank branch in towns such as Staveley or adopt Labour’s proposal for a post bank so that we can have some Government control to make sure we have services where they are desperately needed?
I have looked into the situation in Staveley and it will be served by a mobile bank following the closure. The post office, where a 24-hour ATM is available, is just a six-minute walk from Lloyds. The number of people visiting the counter at Lloyds bank in Staveley reduced by 22% in the last year, so it is understandable why Lloyds has made that decision. The Government’s investment in the Post Office and its banking services facility is our solution.
The Minister should make no mistake: communities up and down Britain are being deliberately starved of cash and banking services as the banks, with the support of Government, are trying to create a near cashless society. Can he say a bit more about what he is doing to help the more than 1 million poorer people who do not have access to a bank account?
I recognise the difficulty and I am happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss the issues in his constituency. We have invested considerably in the post office network and I am meeting the Lending Standards Board to look at the mechanism for transfer to the Post Office and to consider solutions on a case-by-case basis.