Santander Closures and Local Communities — [Philip Davies in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 1:56 pm on 14th February 2019.

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Photo of Kirstene Hair Kirstene Hair Conservative, Angus 1:56 pm, 14th February 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate David Linden on securing this important debate; we can see from the number of Members present the powerful cross-party consensus on the impact of bank branch closures on our local communities.

The most recent closures in my constituency and across the UK continue a worrying trend of declining public services. In Angus, 2015 saw the closure of the Royal Bank of Scotland in Brechin, 2016 saw the Edzell Bank of Scotland branch close and in 2017 it was TSB in Kirriemuir. In 2018, RBS in Montrose and the Bank of Scotland in Kirriemuir closed, and it has now been announced that there will be two further Santander closures by the end of the year.

From 2015 to 2019, my local authority saw a total of 12 bank branches close. Looking at the wider picture, from 2010 to 2018 the country as a whole saw a 35% decline in bank branches, but Scotland was above that national average, at 38%. Angus now has one Santander branch in the constituency catering for a population of 100,000 people, although obviously not all of them are its customers.

I was disappointed, as the local Member, to hear about the closures in my constituency through a local news outlet, as opposed to from the Santander public affairs team; I believe Members of the Scottish Parliament heard through that route. I got a letter through a few days afterwards. I have not been given the opportunity to meet Santander until a few weeks from now. I am very disappointed by the way in which it has treated this serious issue.

The closures have an important impact on communities across the UK, with rural communities affected slightly differently. Both customers and staff find themselves in incredibly difficult situations, as the hon. Member for Glasgow East pointed out. Of course, the solution to all this is digitisation, but that does not help everyone. I was quite surprised when I went to bank a cheque in my local branch the other day and was told that I did not need to do that in the branch because it can be done via phone. Even at 29, I was surprised by the level of technology that some banks have pushed forward. However, those options are not available to all.

People in rural communities increasingly feel that they are being penalised because of where they choose to stay, whether by bank closures or through other services being taken away from them. These bank branches are in the heart of communities and they cannot simply be replaced by the cited alternatives.

Let us look at the digitisation offering. In an area such as Angus, there is not fantastic mobile coverage or broadband across the whole constituency. In fact, my constituency was ranked 612 out of the 650 constituencies in the UK—one of the worst—for the roll-out of superfast broadband. People simply do not have access to it, so although yes, more people are using the internet for their personal needs—the figure went up from 63% to 83% between 2007 and 2016—that provision is not available to all. As much as banks are keen to highlight the digital offering, they have to recognise that that cannot be used by everyone. We also have problems with mobile coverage. I know that it can be suggested that people phone the bank on a landline to raise their issues, but between 2012 and 2017 landline minutes declined by about 50% because people are using their mobiles. But in Angus, we still have many notspots, where people simply cannot get through.

The other alternative that hon. Members have mentioned is the use of post offices. As much as I welcome Santander’s provision to help the more vulnerable to understand how they can access post office services, Santander will not be able to do that with them every day. There are post offices in the towns where my closures are, in Brechin and Forfar, and I have been assured that they will be able to deal with all Santander customers wanting to deposit and withdraw cash, to pay in cheques and to check bank balances, but what if they need to print a statement or transfer money to another person’s account? What if they have questions about their mortgage? Those are all issues that people need to deal with day to day. Santander needs to look into those specific issues and how it would expect people without connectivity and without a post office nearby to be able to carry out those tasks.