It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank Ged Killen for bringing this important debate to the Chamber. I was delighted to support his recent ten-minute rule Bill on protecting access to cash and reducing charges, the Banking (Cash Machine Charges and Financial Inclusion) Bill.
According to analysis by Payments UK and the Bank of England, those who rely almost entirely on cash are much more likely to be in rural areas such as my constituency. Yet they are experiencing the greatest reduction in the number of machines since the funding reduction by LINK in 2018. The closure of ATMs on the high street is of particular concern to older residents, who are more likely to rely on such services. The ATM network in rural areas is therefore incredibly important in supporting rural economies. My constituency will soon lose the Bank of Scotland branch in Kirriemuir, and earlier this year we lost our Royal Bank of Scotland branch in Montrose. When we lose banks, we also lose the ATMs.
Such closures have a huge impact on rural high streets. High streets in Angus are struggling anyway, and the closures put further pressure on them, continuing to challenge their trading environment. The removal of ATMs only creates a further barrier and a disincentive to shoppers. That is why the UK Government and LINK should work together to make shopping on high streets as simple and straightforward as possible. Everything should be done to prevent rural communities from feeling the brunt of the fee reductions and the potential closures that might ensue.
Like many hon. Members, last week I visited many small businesses in my constituency. Among the matters that came up was the ATM issue, and the negative impact that card transactions can have on small independent businesses. Many ask that people spend a certain amount before they can make a card transaction, but if one in 10 people have to walk more than 30 minutes to find the closest ATM, they may just walk away from the transaction. There are differences between contactless payments and card payments, and those things all put more pressure on small independent retailers. That is why ATMs must be in place to support them.
The financial inclusion programme, which aims to identify vulnerable ATMs and increase the interchange payment by 30p, in order to keep rural ATMs financially viable and protect rural communities, is welcome, but there is a question as to how effective it has been. Despite the programme, research by Which? has shown that closure rates of free-to-use ATMs have still been at their highest in rural constituencies such as mine. The provision that people should not have to travel more than 1 km does not go far enough. In fact, it is not in place in every area in Angus, and today we have heard other Members say the same. Residents in Inverkeilor, a village in my constituency with a population of 1,000, must travel six miles to Friockheim to use a free ATM. That is well outwith the 1 km provision that should be in place.