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

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 2:24 pm on 14th February 2019.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 2:24 pm, 14th February 2019

I do not feel old, but perhaps I am of a different generation. As always, I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding me that such things start young, as it did with my mum and dad as well. As an Ulster Scot, as I have said in the Chamber before, and perhaps in the main Chamber, “Every pound’s a prisoner.” Well, it is to me, and it probably is to the hon. Gentleman as well.

I thank the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West for tabling the early day motion on access to cash, because it is important to have it recorded. There are 23 signatures to it so far, which indicates the deep interest in the issue.

I remember when First Trust, a local bank, hired a special adviser to get people out the front of the bank au fait with online banking—Kirstene Hair referred to the online banking issue. Within six months, the news was out that the branch was closing due to an uptake in specialist online banking. Hon. Members can draw their own conclusions about how and why that happened. That was the third bank to close in the main town of Newtownards and the sixth to close in my constituency of Strangford; I have had a lot of bank closures. That is why every time SNP Members have raised issues with bank closures, I have wanted to make sure that I was in there fighting for my constituency as well. As I say, over time we have had a number of banks close.

I am really quite intrigued by what the Library briefing information that we have received says, statistically and factually. Page 3 of the briefing says:

“The only region or country of the UK in which the number of bank and building society branches increased between 2010 and 2018 was Northern Ireland”.

There must have been a lot of other constituencies getting lots of banks, because I was losing them all while they were getting them all. I am not quite sure if the statistics are correct—no, I am sure they are. I am not saying they are not true; I would not say that for one second. The briefing continues on page 3:

“Northern Ireland has 405 branches, 21.6 per 100,000 residents—the highest rate of any region or country in the UK.”

That prompts the question of what is happening in my constituency in Newtownards? Why have seven bank branches closed over the past number of years, including Danske Bank, Bank of Ireland, First Trust, and Ulster Bank?

According to Which?, the consumer group, nearly two thirds of the UK’s bank branch network has been lost over the past 30 years. The number of bank and building society branches stood at 20,583 in 1988, according to our own parliamentary records, but an up-to-date analysis by Which? of current account providers suggests that that figure has dwindled to 7,586.

I understand, again from the Library information, that three Santander branches will close in Northern Ireland: in Antrim, in Ballymoney, and on Newtownards Road in Belfast. Those branches are not in my constituency, but this year Santander is due to close 140 branches in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the reason given is that there has been a marked decrease in the number of transactions. I must say that I do all my banking in the bank or on the phone, and by physical means—using banknotes—on most occasions. That is not simply to keep business in our local branches, although that plays a part. It is also because—honestly—I do not fully trust online banking security. The hon. Member for Glasgow East referred to this issue at the very beginning of the debate and I agree with him, and some of my constituents do not trust it either.