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

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 2:14 pm on 14th February 2019.

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Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact 2:14 pm, 14th February 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I add my thanks to David Linden and congratulate him on securing this debate. I am delighted to support him. As my hon. Friend Kirstene Hair said, bank branch closures affect the constituents of hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is important that we stick together to represent people and stand up for the most vulnerable in our society.

In 2016, not long after I was elected, I was faced with a couple of bank closures in my constituency, in Cheam. The high street there thrives on independent shops. First, Lloyds Bank came to the end of its lease. I would give the constituent of Liz McInnes the same counsel that I gave my constituents who were upset about losing Lloyds Bank: vote with their feet and go to HSBC up the road. Unfortunately, just a few months later, HSBC decided to close, too. Constituents can be pulled from pillar to post, continually having to move, to chase the exodus from the high streets. Banks do not want to be the last bank on the high street, because all the focus would be on them when they eventually respond to a changing market.

I retain a good relationship with my local Santander branch in Sutton, which looks after customers of the two that are now closing. I remember a tweet that I sent to a constituent on 19 May 2016, in which I said that I had had a chat to Santander, which was closing quite a small branch in North Cheam, but was committed to its main Cheam branch. Fast-forward only three years: that branch is now closing. The last bank in Cheam will have gone.

When Lloyds Bank and HSBC were closing, residents set up petitions, but petitions only have so much value. Yes, they can show the weight of opinion and ask the banks to please be considerate, but when a banking chain has made a corporate decision, a petition will generate heat but not a lot of light, so we need to look at other ways to respond. Can we encourage customers to move elsewhere? Can we work on the post office network, despite the restrictions on that, which we heard about from other hon. Members? Are we putting an unfair burden on the post office network and the Government in relation to decisions made by corporate organisations?

In the case of the Santander closure in Cheam, three local councillors, Elliot Colburn, Holly Ramsey and Eric Allen, have taken a different tack. Metro Bank is looking at expanding its network in other areas, so they have made a direct approach to Metro Bank, saying, “Here’s a space. There are no banks. It is an area where there are a lot of independent shops. Metro Bank takes a different tack in its approach to attracting customers—it is a bit of a disruptor bank—so why don’t you come in and consider Cheam as an option?”

What more can we do? We have talked about the pressure being put on to post offices. In Sutton, it looks as though our Crown post office will be moved to WHSmith, which will cause angst and concern to a number of people there. On the other hand, not far away in Belmont, a village to the south of my constituency, a post office has just been opened at the back of a pet shop, and it is one of the best-used post offices. It won an award from the network as one of the best new post offices in London, coming second only to one on Oxford Street. That is pretty impressive. If it is put in an imaginative place, it will be used.

What more can we do? Should we look at the banking hubs and a return to the ’70s, or some form of technology to move banks from making corporate decisions to making marketing decisions, which can go a totally different way? If the bank takes a marketing decision to look at innovation, its corporate social responsibility will move the decision away from just being a box-ticking exercise for its shareholder report to being something that can actually add value to the high street and tackle the issues such as loneliness mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Angus. By making the high street a hub and a community centre and bringing in other businesses to work with the bank, the bran can become the centre of the high street, which has to be good for that bank.