I absolutely agree. That issue came up at the two public meetings I have held in Lossiemouth and Keith since the potential closures were announced. The questions at Keith centred on the fact that this would not happen in the central belt of Scotland or in the capital down here in London, where there is a large footfall. Closing one branch would have less impact on communities in Glasgow or Edinburgh than closing the last branch in a town such as Lossiemouth.
My hon. Friend the Member for Angus made the excellent point that some people may decide not to shop locally if they cannot access an ATM so that they can pay by cash. We heard at my Lossiemouth public meeting that a lot of takeaway shops only accept cash payments. It is not that people go there and decide not to buy; they have already purchased on the phone. They place an order, the food is then made, and they turn up to find out that payment is by cash only. With the cash machines potentially going in Lossiemouth and Keith, they may have no opportunity to get money out, and therefore the takeaway business loses income, because it has already produced the order.
Another important point is that, yes, this has a huge impact on local residents, and particularly the elderly, but Lossiemouth and Moray are beacons for tourists coming to Scotland. We want to welcome as many tourists as possible. What will they think when they want to buy something from the local shop, when they want a memento of their visit to Lossiemouth and Moray, but there is no cash machine for them to get their money out to purchase the goods in the town? We have to consider that going forward.
The local Conservative councillor for Heldon and Laich, James Allan led a great campaign in Moray. I pass on my best regards for Councillor Allan, who unfortunately ended up at Dr Gray’s hospital yesterday. He is recovering well. James has been a real champion of this issue in his hometown of Lossiemouth. When the Royal Bank of Scotland left the town and took away its ATM, he led the campaign to reintroduce it. The RBS building has been taken over by a commercial businessman who would be absolutely delighted to retain the RBS ATM in the town, because he knows the needs of local people. He would facilitate and work that machine, but RBS has so far refused to allow the machine to reopen. It really has to consider its obligations to the community. It may leave and close branches, but it should not take lock, stock and barrel away with the ATMs as well.
James has done an excellent study of the number of cash machines in the local area. Lossiemouth, with a population of more than 7,000 and expanding, currently has three cash machines, which will potentially be down to one. Forres, with a population of 12,500, has eight cash machines. Fochabers, which I used to represent as the councillor for Fochabers and Lhanbryde, has a population of 1,700 and three cash machines, compared with a community the size of Lossiemouth, which is expanding and will potentially go down to one cash machine.
I have to say that the mobile banking provision, which the banks always say will support the communities, does not serve our communities particularly well. It is potentially available for one hour every week or every fortnight, and many of the functions of an ATM are not available at a mobile banking service. The Moray Rambler introduced by RBS now covers a far wider area than only Moray, because RBS has closed so many other branches in Aberdeenshire and the highlands and so on, and our service in Moray is diminished even further.
I will finish on a recent court judgment about ATMs in England and Wales. I was involved in an issue with Buckley’s newsagents in Lossiemouth, again with Councillor Allan. It has an ATM that faces out on to the high street, to ensure that people can use it 24 hours a day. The owner, Tony Rook, could put it inside, but it would then be available only when the shop is open. As a servant to the community, he decided to have it outward-facing. He is being punished by the Scottish Government, who have implemented far higher business rates for outward-facing ATMs than those inside a shop.
I hope that the Minister will clarify this. The issue was passed on to me by Councillor John Cowe, who attended the public meetings in Lossiemouth and who is encouraged by the judgment that came down, I think, last month. Since 2010, supermarkets and convenience stores have been liable to pay rates on the machines, but the courts have now decided that that is not correct and have ruled in favour of the supermarkets who took this forward, particularly Sainsbury’s and Tesco, meaning that the £300 million already charged will now be refunded. I agree with the Tesco spokesperson who said:
“We welcome today’s result and the confirmation of our belief that ATMs should not be separately rateable.”
I will be interested in the Minister’s response and particularly whether he has had any discussions with his Scottish Government counterpart about how they will look at the issue in Scotland, because the ruling was for England and Wales only. It will be very important and useful for us to learn what the Scottish Government will do as a result of the judgment, because it will make a big difference to people such as Tony Rook at Buckley’s newsagents.
I am grateful for your indulgence, Mr Hollobone. This is an important debate for our communities, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West for initiating it. Banks and ATM providers have a moral obligation to the communities that we all represent and serve. The message is coming through loud and clear. Do not take away ATMs, which are an integral part of our communities; they are important for everyone who lives in and visits them. We need them, we need them to be free and we need them to be accessible and available. By shutting them down, banks and ATM providers are shutting down many of the communities that rely on them.